Obviously, a lot of things had to happen in 2013 and 2014 regarding the Farm and the role I play with regard to its operation. When one gets cancer of the blood, legal matters like trusts, ownership of property, protection from probate etc.. eat up a lot of time, effort and money. Moves had to be made to protect the Farm and all it represents. Some of those are hard for me to swallow now. I made it through the God-damned treatment and came out the other side with a new role in life. I am not always comfortable wih that role, and am decidedly uncomfortable with my new role on the farm.
I spent all of 2014 that I could on the farm. When the oncology team cut me loose from daily treatment, I headed home to Albertville (Thanks for helping me pack Bruce!) unloaded my stuff, and started looking for a camper to stay in. We had leased out the Dacha (Trailer house we fixed up real nice on an acre of land a couple of miles from the Farm) to a couple, the husband half of the pair having a disease called plastique nemia, or at least something close to that. It is even more rare than my cancer. I leased it to him for life, cause it was the right thing to do. However, that leaves me without a place to stay when I go to the farm. Thus, the camper search.
I found a 40 year old Hi-Lo owned by a guy in my neighborhood. The interior ain’t great, but it does not leak much, has a working furnace, stove, oven, and lights. I talked him down to $650.00, and brought it home and parked it in the driveway. The thing is 18 feet long, has two tables, each of which turn into a queen size bed, a drop down loft bed of the same size, and it had a toilet/shower.
It snowed shortly after I bought the camper, which is not surprising being that it was the first week in April. My wife and daughter admitted to me that the trailer was old and ugly. I could not argue. But it was solid and didn’t leak. I checked when the snow melted.
By bean planting time I was ensconced in my trailer at the farm. Good thing the furnace worked! I bought an extender for the WiFi coming from the house where the Barr’s live. Set up my laptops, monitors and keyboards and started healing up.
There were two kinds of healing I wanted to do, and I knew the farm was the place to do them. My oncologist and some members of my family were not so sure. However, the oncologist said stay out of the dust, gave me heavy duty masks to wear, shrugged his shoulders and said good luck. My family did what amounted to the same. I will always be grateful to them for that.
The initial placement of the camper worked well until things started to warm up. I discovered I needed shade or an air conditioner. I started with a little window air conditioner, having to turn it sideways to fit into the window of the camper. Worked fine that way, but ran all the time. My internal body temperature regulation does not work well, so I would go from sweltering to freezing. Eventually, I hooked the camper up to the truck and set it up under two huge maples on the south side of the machine shed. And there it stayed. On hot days I could open the windows and the breeze was enough. I think the air conditioner only ran three times last summer.
So, I had a place to be. I began to putz around the shop in the machine shed. It is a 20′ x 40′ structure within a structure that has a 16′ ceiling. And it was a disaster. One could not even walk a straight line from one side to the other not to mention from front to back. My fault. I had let it get out of hand as we took on the major projects of getting the farm back in shape over the last years. Time to dig in….right? Yeah, right…!
I dug in all right. I would work for 30, may 35 minutes and be totally wiped out. I could not understand. My whole life I have dug into jobs full steam and my internal drive would carry me through. No matter how tired, hung over, wasted, beat up… I could do the job, and do it all damn day! Not any more… I still get angry and feel betrayed when I think about it, like right now. The frustration is almost beyond my tolerance level. And being on the farm made it ever so much worse!!!
You need to understand: The Wielands work! We work hard! “There are no excuses…the God-damn job gets done, and it gets done right or you can get your stupid ass back out there and do the F**king job over til it is right!!” (Note: Mom and Dad were not verbal like that, ever!!, but the expectations were very similar) I spent my summers as a teen, from 11 to 17 on the Farm, and that was the expectation (and method of expressing it) I grew up with there. I am proud of that! Those folks taught me to work, and rewarded me generously for doing good work. They cared for and loved me in their own way, and I would not have traded those summers for anything looking back now.
But I am no longer capable of meeting those expectations. By rights, the spine specialist told me to never, ever, lift more than 5, yes that is five, pounds. I have shoes that weigh more than that! I just can’t… it shames me sometimes. I pushed myself. It didn’t work. All I accomplished was to further injure myself. So fucking shaming!
…..Maybe if it had not come on so fast… . Not eighteen months previously I had been 6′, 170lbs, on a ladder hanging a 8′ x 8′ shed door by myself. I would go to the Farm on weekends and work from 7:00 am until dark. Not all the work was hard, but some of it was. Now, I am no longer that man. On a good day, I can carry a straw bale if I am careful about it. I can do … well, not much when compared to only 18 months before, 24 months now as I write this.
In November of ’12 I knew who and what I was. By March of ’13 I was a walking dead man with Dr.’s clearly unsure of a prognosis. In June I was down to 121lbs and I was ambulatory enough to get to the shower, but not much more. In July I made it out to the deck that faces North East over a pond at 04:45 one morning. It took me 45 minutes to travel the 60 foot distance. I had a talk with God as I watched the sun rise…something I don’t do often for my own reasons, neither talk with God nor watch the sun rise that is. I decided to live that morning. Then I went back to my chair and listened to some music my daughter had introduced me to. Transition music… maybe I will write something about that some day…
By August I was strong enough to drive myself to the farm and sit in a chair. The chemo and radiation had stopped the progression, but my spine was shot. In only 45 days between early May and mid-June I had shrunk over eight inches. Yet the progression had been halted, even the Dr.s were a bit surprised. Hell, at that point I had looked death in the face. One day I realized that the only difference between me (along with many others that have similar experiences) and every one else, is that for me and those like me, my own death has a name. For most, it is an abstract thing. As it was for me before.
In late February of ’14 they blasted me with chemo, waited a day, and then fed my own stem cells that had been harvested earlier in the month back into me. Then a month of staying at the lodge next to the hospital, always accompanied by friends or family. Thirty days, and not once was I unaccompanied. I will never be able to express the gratitude I feel. And those that could not be there, they called me, they did not forget. They let me call them… Yeah, gratitude, I know that feeling.
….All that is what led me to be sitting in a machine shop on a 234 acre spread in SW Wisconsin feeling angry, humiliated, and generally sorry for myself. I won’t apologize. I damn well earned it. After moping a bit, I notice that there was this one thing right in front of me that I might just as well do. Such a small thing that it would not matter. I don’t recall what it was, but I do recall it bothering me sitting there and not doing it. So I got up and did it, and then I found another little thing, and another. And pretty soon I had been doing little things for better than an hour. And I began to learn…
I am not and never will be the man that I was. I don’t even think the same way anymore. Hell, I could not have sat and written all this back then. I just did not have the patience. I have no choice now. But it is a hard row to hoe. I still dream of myself as I was. I don’t dream often, and I used to never remember my dreams. I remember them now. Sometime I wish I didn’t. I wake up ready to go, those few seconds where your mind sort of switches on and you know there are things to do but your not sure what, but your body is ready to do them….and then, well…my body is not ready. It is sort of a let down some times.
The Farm was the hardest place to learn this. Therefor it was perfect place to learn it. I started to learn to do what I could do instead of what I expected to do. The learning is not over yet, but it started, and it started there on the farm. I found that I am a lot better at picking mulberries and black berries than I used to be. That I can plan tasks in such a way that I can do them without adding to the damage already done to my body. I used to be able to just drop a shoulder and bull through, now, I have to think my way through those tasks. Learning…..
The Farm taught me that when I stop because I am tired, that I should look, listen, taste the air, enjoy having to stop. Shit! I have to stop anyway, why sit there and berate oneself when one can look out over a pasture and see real beauty. I have a long way to go in that learning process yet, but it has started… and the Farm is patient even when I am not.
So here I am wandering into 2015, still hoping to have the Farm teach me to live differently. To tolerate myself and to move past the new limits… .
I don’t really know why I am writing this now. I know I need to say what is here. I started with the intent of writing about the Farm, and ended up blabbing about me.
Maybe it is because I don’t see myself as a different entity from the Farm anymore. Maybe, like my aunt Nola before me, I have become a part of it, and it a part of me.
I am certain that this must be about as self-centered a piece of drivel as can be. Again, I won’t apologize. I think it is time I accepted myself, that I look in the mirror and acknowledge what you, the reader must see when you look at me. I need to accept that without the shame of comparison to what I was. After all, being ashamed now assumes I was measurably better before, and that may have been only in my own eyes. At any rate, herein lies what I have become. At least it is honest.