CHARLES TOWN – After a book signing/reception last week to celebrate the publication of Lyn Widmyer’s new book, “Chasing Cows: I’m Not in the Suburbs Anymore,” the Spirit of Jefferson asked the author if she could share an excerpt with our readers.
For more on the book, turn to Widmyer’s website: lynwidmyer.net.
From “Chasing Cows: I’m Not in the Suburbs Anymore”:
I married Ron, a West Virginia dairy farmer, in 1981. Until then, my only contact with beef was the meat section of the grocery store. After 30 years of marriage and two children, I still don’t know a Guernsey from a Hereford. I can’t operate a tractor. I don’t wear muslin. At the Jefferson County Fair one summer, the Extension Service was offering free chances for canning supplies. The woman urged me to take a chance, telling me I might win. “That’s what I am afraid of,” I responded and kept walking.
Born in Brooklyn, raised on military bases around the nation and the world, I never thought I would become a farm wife in West Virginia. One of my favorite family photos is of my daughter Molly at the county fair with her cow. My only childhood picture with livestock features me being licked by our family’s Irish setter in front of our suburban home.
Ron and I were married at Federal Hill Farm in 1981 at the same spot his parents were married 42 years earlier. The wedding was catered by a local woman, Jane McFarland. My stepmother Audrey and I were reviewing the menu with her when Jane looked out the dining room window and asked if she could borrow a shovel. Puzzled, I found her one and she calmly went onto the porch and whacked the living daylights out of a 4-foot-long black snake. “Now where were we?” she asked as we returned to the menu. It took a moment for me to switch my attention from dead snakes to stuffed mushrooms.
Ron’s father Leo was amazed at the number of wedding gifts we received featuring cows — all from my city friends. We received platters painted with cows, cow-imprinted water glasses, cow-shaped towel racks and even an ice cream scoop that mooed. Leo just shook his head. “I don’t get it,” he said. After a lifetime of backbreaking work running a dairy farm, Leo had no interest in bovine décor.
Moving from a two-bedroom townhouse to a farmhouse with three staircases, 12 exterior doors, 45 windows and four acres of lawn took a bit of adjustment. My first home improvement was to install dead bolt locks on each of the outside doors. Ironically, I felt less safe in the country than in my suburban town house. I did not have the security of closeby neighbors in the country so no one was going to hear my screams if attacked by a roving band of serial killers.
A few weeks after our wedding, a hunter appeared at our front door with several wrapped packages of deer meat. Apparently, this is how hunters show their appreciation for hunting privileges . “I can’t eat Bambi,” I told my husband.
… I do have to thank hunters for our screened in front porch. As the new Farm Wife, I insisted we screen in the porch since the flies from the dairy made it almost impossible to sit outside. Given the size of the porch, this was a massive undertaking. About halfway through the project, on a cold fall night, we heard a frantic knocking at the kitchen door. Ron undid the various deadbolt locks to find a young man, sobbing, on the doorstep. He and his friend were hunting (with permission) on the farm. The ground was muddy and the young man lost his footing and slipped. His shotgun went off and a bullet went through his friend’s leg. Ron called an ambulance and guided them to the scene. The injury was not serious, thank God.
It turned out the young man was the carpenter’s nephew. To show his appreciation to Ron, the carpenter refused payment for the porch.
When I married Ron, I kept my maiden name rather than changing it to Widmyer. Marrying a third-generation resident of a rural county made that difficult. I was always introduced as “Ronnie’s wife” and invariably referred to as Lyn Widmyer. After my nomadic childhood, I realized I liked being part of a longstanding, respected farm family and happily changed my name to Widmyer.
I am very proud to be a third generation farm wife, following in the footsteps of Ida Fleming Marlow and Virginia Marlow Widmyer. I treasure the reminders I have from their era: handsewn aprons, quilts, a recipe for curing country ham and Virginia’s account book for farm expenses (“January 30, 1949: bought 18 shoats for $141.35”). I have added more modern memorabilia to the farm wife collection for the next generation: a handful of monthly commuter train tickets to my job in nearby Maryland, a master key to open the deadbolt locks and a dictionary to look up “shoats.”