Tag Archives: rural

Mary and Martha (Stewart)

by Mary

There’s no sense in denying it. I, Mary Slattery, am quite the Martha Stewart fan. Yes I know, she’s a strange figure to admire, especially when you take into account that some of my favorite female role models are Mother Teresa, St. Joan of Arc, and and Immaculee. But hey, I’ve got the confidence to admit that I’m a sucker for Martha, and whenever I can get my hands on a copy of her latest glossy magazine publication I’m plenty happy to study it.

Recently, my cousin Cale found me reading the latest copy of Martha Stewart Living on my front porch, and took a picture to document my weakness.

This humored me into imagining the parallel, or lack thereof, in our daily lives.

Every copy of Martha Stewart Living documents the life of Martha via a monthly calendar. An example of this would be: June 12th, Martha goes horseback riding! Imagining Martha riding makes me think of a sleek, well mannered mount and Martha decked out in Ralph Lauren and leisurely riding along a gentle shoreline. Here I am on June 12th. Needless to say, no figmented Martha effects are applicable here.

This photo was taken mid-morning before heading out to check on a beef herd’s mineral supply at Devil’s Hole Ranch, which my brother Gabe and sister-in-law Aurora oversee. As you can see, I’m not the only horse enthusiast in the family. Horseback riding, paired with ranching duties and hills and valleys, is a far cry from leisurely, clean polos, or the beach.

Every edition of Martha’s also contains a generous amount of cleaning days. From dusting off tupperware lids to cleaning out linen closets, Ms. Stewart does it all. Me too, I guess. Like Martha, in the midst of June, I had many cleaning days. But unlike Martha, dusting and sprucing were low priority. You see, somehow I got roped into a cleaning project from hell (or at least purgatory). An extended family member had just closed on an apartment which unfortunately had a one bedroom efficiency that had been abandoned two months prior by an unstable Vietnam Vet. The man left everything he owned and boarded a Greyhound. This meant I had to remove all of his possessions from his filthy lair. This also meant I had to tackle the chore of cleaning years worth of grime off surfaces, as well as food that had been sitting in the sink and fridge for sixty odd days. I chose laughter and music as the means to better this endeavor, but you can bet I would rather have been dusting and folding sheets with Martha.

Of course, Martha’s iconic abilities include being a gardening diva. In the summer months, her calendar is chock full of gardening days. Mine too! In Martha’s picture’s, she is often bustling about a green paradise in effortlessly clean and comfortable button down shirts and relaxed khakis. Once again, like Martha, I can often be found in my garden- or Dad’s fields. However, there really aren’t any pictures depicting images of a collected and stylish me.

Unlike my mentor Martha, on the field I’m a wreck in filthy clothes that are beat up and sweaty as I pull pea vines, weeding thirsty beets, or dodging clods of flying dirt and sarcastic rhetoric while weeding with disenchanted siblings who have less interest in horticulture or labor than myself.

After documenting the parallels between Martha and myself, I must say I’ve come around to seeing the vast difference in our lives. Cale is right. Oh well- I can still read her magazine, and enjoy the fact that everybody can be a bit of a Martha Stewart- even if they wear Wranglers and have mad dirt dodging skills.

Voting Gratitude

By Mary
On a grey afternoon last week, my mother and I made a quick afternoon jaunt to the Washington Township voting polls located just three miles down the road from Sweet Ridge Farm. Hustling into the tiny town hall kept me dry from the speckles of spring rain that had been coming on and off on an intermittent basis. Once inside the dry town hall I was loosely surrounded by a few people from the local community. Living in a rural area lends to everyone knowing everybody- at least by name. When given my ballot, I didn’t need to show an I.D. or even to verbally identify myself. The lady behind a fold-up table filled with a generous stack of ballots simply said “Mary” and gave me one.

At this moment, my mind was not on the ballot, or who I was to vote for in the state recall elections. Nor was I contemplating on who those familiar faces at the poll would vote for. My thoughts were diverted to Immaculee, and my heart was brimming with gratitude for the security that I have experienced on a day to day basis. To all of you who don’t know Immaculee’s story, I urge you to either watch her movie The Diary of Immaculee. I happen to own her documentary. Because I’ve watched it several times, I am well aware of the difficulties she faced. Immaculee grew up in Rwanda, a country she loved, and was surrounded by a loving family. However, in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart by genocide. Culmination of competition and tension between the Tutsi and Hutu people exploded into neighboring Hutus and Tutsis going to war with each other. This resulted in the murder of 800,000 people. Neighbors killed neighbors. Immaculee’s family was attacked by their neighbors, which led to their deaths. Immaculee’s own survival can be attributed to being harbored in a secret bathroom space with seven other women for 91 days. Previous to her time spent in hiding, Immaculee was a vibrant 21 year old University student weighing 115 lbs. She emerged from her silent 3 months of terrified hiding weighing 65 lbs, only to discover most of her family members had been brutally murdered by machete wielding locals.

Looking around the township hall, I realized how blessed I am to be a young American woman. Of course my vote mattered, but did it matter in the sense of my immediate survival? No. Not at all. Those neighborly faces at the polls may vote differently than me, but I live in a democratic society. Thus, unlike in Rwanda, I have the privilege to cast my vote peacefully, as does my neighbor. There are no Hutus or Tutsis at war with each other, so regardless of my vote, family, and tribe my life isn’t in danger. After exchanging my ballot in the voting machine, I nearly skipped outside into the rain, reveling in the goodness of my own idyllic and privileged American life. Thank you, Immaculee, for sharing your story and making me aware of all that I’ve taken for granted in my life and nation. Thanks to the rain for the abundance it will create this year within the farmer’s field. Thank you to my neighbors, for despite political or cultural opinions we all live in a powerful sense of unity. I’ll never have to fear for my life, or even the life of my highly bothersome and obnoxious dog for that matter. Last of all, thank you America for the gift of living in a free and democratic society.

More thoughts about voting from Mary:

Post Noting Nostalgia

Melting Pot

By: Mary

I can’t recall when it was that I learned about the definition for melting pot in history, but on Saturday I was reminded of the expression. This was due to the fact that I was at my friend Mary Mark’s house which I have dubbed ” The Amish Mansion” and I was eating fantastic traditional Filipino food that was cooked my Mary’s Filipino friends.

These friends have been a helpful support system to my friend Mary, who was adopted from an orphanage in the Philippines as a girl. It has been many years since she came to America. Mary now has 2 children of her own, and is expecting her 3rd in March.

Here is a photo of her daughter Jade the birthday girl (or monkey as I call her due to her typical habit of hanging off of me) in her pink birthday dress.

Mary and her husband Julian rent their home from my sister-in-laws Aurora’s father. (You can read a more about Aurora here.) Now, Dr. Menn is not only a doctor but a rancher as well. He wears cowboy boots and bolo ties to the hospital.  Doc Menn wanted extra haygound and ended up buying an entire farm from an Amish family to get the acreage. Well, he certainly got more than hayground when he bought this house! Check it out:

I know-crazy right? I swear this house must have at least 10 bedrooms, not to mention tons of odd nooks and crawl spaces. Every room in the house is painted the classic light blue shade that the Amish paint all of their walls The story is that a young Amish family built the home and proceeded to have oodles of children(14 I think) who than proceeded to start their own families. One of the children built on a second home that is adjoined to the first by the  porch.

The place is a fantastic house to wander. When it was vacant I loved to hunt down plants from the abandoned Amish garden and explore the house, all the while feeling like I was in the midst of a Amish commune or Mormon compound. Gone now are the days of vacancy that existed after the Amish family moved North. Since then indoor plumbing and electricity was installed, and the house has been split into 2 units. Now Mary and her husband live on one side and another young family live in the other half.

When I first learned about the phrase melting pot, I thought of European immigrants on Ellis Island. Now the definition has broadened, and yes, it does include a variety of people at a birthday party in an Amish home in rural Wisconsin in the year 2011.

Black Boots on Black Friday

By Mary

For many Americans Black Friday is a day to navigate ones way thru massive crowds and heavy traffic while shopping. I don’t really subscribe to this mentality for 3 reasons. The reasons are:

I am too cheap, too lazy, and I just don’t care!

My 7 year old niece,Claire Slattery and I decided to take a walk instead of fighting the congested shopping traffic. With the especially mild weather, it was refreshing to take in some peaceful time outside.

Of course the dog came along with us. Honestly, I prefer his company to frenzied shoppers (and most people for that matter!).

After coming back into the house, I managed to convince Little Clare to keep me company while going into Lacrosse. Due to the fact that the main purpose of the trip into town was so that I could go to daily mass, it took some true convincing powers. Clare was won over when I mentioned to her that I was going to go to the library.

We pulled on our black cowboy boots and headed into the city.

With silk flowers in our hair and our black boots on, we walked around the downtown area.

My spending budget on Black Friday pretty much consisted of spending time with my niece and buying her junk food. That’s the kind of Black Friday budget I am all about!

Ali: My Iraqui Brother

by Patrick Slattery

Last week while packing cabbage in the root cellar, I entertained two visitors. The first was Jaris, a very polite, well-dressed, 24-year-old Jehovah’s Witness. After pleasant conversation and giving him a bag of free squash, I took Jaris upstairs to share his message with Peter Drake and Terese’s mother, Grandma Cummings. They both received copies of “The Watchtower”, and after my coaching, were supposed to have shown “The Watchtower” to Terese after she came home from school and tell her they had converted (they failed to execute my plan).

But the fellow I wanted to tell you about was the next visitor, Ariat. He is a bald little fellow, aged 53, a member of the very small Arab community that resides nearby in LaCrosse. They all know one another, and hang out at a gas station owned by a Pakistani. Ariat was  looking for onions and garlic, which I gave him along with a package of frozen venison.

“Where’s Ali?”, I asked of him, “haven’t seen him in a long time.”

Ariat replyed: “He’s gone from LaCrosse. Living in Rockford, has a new wife.”

“That’s too bad”, I said, “because I’ll miss seeing him.”

But before he fades from memory, I’d like to tell you about Ali, as a fellow farmer and occasional visitor here at Sweet Ridge Farm. Ali grew up on a farm in Iraq. He was one of twenty-three children (his father had four wives). He didn’t like Sudam, and had spent some time in jail in Iraq. Somehow he got to this country, and after living in Chicago and a number of other big cities, ended up in LaCrosse. Ali is a Halal butcher, meaning that he kills and processes livestock according to Islamic law. He worked in a number of Halal slaughter houses. “Despicable work”, he told me. And although he wasn’t employed in that capacity while in LaCrosse. He none the less continued butchering Arab style, and thus was always on the lookout for sheep to “do in”. I don’t remember how we connected several years ago-Ali just showed up in our driveway one day and asked if I knew of any sheep or goats that were for sale. As a city-dweller, he was always in need of a place to butcher on the farm, which is illegal of course, but that makes it only more fun to say yes when he suggested that he might do so at our place. We didn’t do it often, maybe a half-dozen times, but I do remember his excellence and skill with a knife. I believe his ritual was to face the animal  east, shout “Allah is great!” and then proceed to slit its throat. He could entirely process a sheep in 10 or 15 minutes. I well remember the time he pulled into our driveway, honking the horn of his old Cadillac with three lambs and various fowl in the trunk, yelling out the window, “Hello brother!”.

Ali had the most gravelly voice that I’ve ever heard. A most impressive fact about Ali is that he never spent one day of his life in school, yet somehow he passed a driver’s test in the U.S. and was able to find his way all over the interstate highway system. Ali had lived in some pretty rough neighborhoods in Chicago and elsewhere, and was grateful for how safe LaCrosse, WI was in comparison. He especially liked being around farmers, as he considered himself a kindred spirit. He like the “Ameesh” (Amish) but they used to haggle ferociously over price. He could tell how old a sheep was by looking a the number of teeth in its mouth. He prepared us a lamb and rice dinner one Sunday, and my son Raphael well recalls it as one of the most delicious meals he ever ate. I also remember him once eating here with his cousin, and they twittered in Arabic and pointed to my wife Terese, who was barefoot at the time and sweeping the floors and had also poured them coffee. “She is just like the women in my country”, Ali pointed out with marvel in his voice. Ali’s wife in LaCrosse was American, and this proved to be his undoing. She was a nurse who worked odd hours and didn’t share his rural interests. I had never met her, and Ali seldom talked about her, but I can only presume that she wasn’t very satisfied with her husbands way of life. He did however bring out his daughter, Alia, a pretty, well behaved little girl. We were all struck by what a fine father he was.

So we can only presume their marriage bond had dissolved and Ali went elsewhere to find a new bride. Ariat said Ali had come back to Lacrosse several times to look for his daughter, but mother and child had disappeared, and there was no tracking them down. Ariat promised to come back next spring and help with the garlic. If the need arises he is welcome to slit a lamb’s throat now and then. I am sure he is good, but no one I suspect will do it with as much grace and style as Ali-my lost Iraqi brother.

This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first articles in his series are available here:

Gary Elsen: Son of Middle Ridge Soil


Cute Tractor