Barns were normal to me growing up in rural Wisconsin. Everyone had a barn, or at least, a shed or outbuilding. So much of the state was still agricultural then, and I went to school with the children of dairy farmers, corn farmers, pig farmers, all that. All those kids were damn used to discipline and hard work, getting up before school while it was still dark to help out with farm chores, unlike me who did jack shit around the house and complained bitterly when even asked to do the dishes. Spoiled baby. I would have been better off made to do stuff.
From the time I was born until I was nine, I lived right next to a dairy farm. The family who lived there were very nice to me and my family; they were an older couple with teen and adult kids. The wife’s spinster sister also lived with them. Alma and Ilma, I could never get those straight. Alma, Ilma, Oprah, Uma. The wife, Alma I think, sewed me a lovely stuffed lambie when I was born, sewed me flannel pj’s for Christmas, flowery dresses for summer. She baked wonderful brownies and apple pies fresh from their orchard, and always sent some over to us. The husband was kind, and would take me around the barn to pet the Guernsey cows and would sometimes even sit me on the back of what seemed to be the tallest dark brown shiny horse, and would take the reins and walk him ever-so-slowly around the property with me smiling as big as a little pony-mad girl could smile. They had lots of pretty fluffy barn cats and kittens to play with and a nice old dog who liked to sit in the cool grass of the front yard, shaded by a huge leafy elm tree.
When winter came, we would bring our little plastic sleds over to the farm to the one barn that had a steep concrete entrance, and slide down the ice until we dumped over into a field. We’d gather up crabapples that had fallen to the ground, half rotted, and whip them at each other, and at passing fast cars if we were very brave and ready to run like hell. The fall I was four, the farmer called our house and asked if I could come over to have my picture taken next to one of his giant pumpkins for the local newspaper. I remember thinking I must be pretty important to be called over, in my little slate blue winter jacket with the very very pointed hood with white furry trim, very important indeed. But this feeling of pride was not evident in the photograph; I think I just looked like, “oh, a pumpkin, wow.” Sorry, Farmer, that I did not show off your produce more enthusiastically. My preschool bad.
This all sounds very sweet and bucolic and warm and safe, doesn’t it? It was, for the most part, but I also learned an very early lesson from our farm neighbors that people are often very different than you might guess, and that there are stories you would rather really not know. The kind farmer and his generous wife were also militaristic Christians; members of the John Birch Society and the Posse Comitatus. Let me give you a little background on the latter organization, based out of Appleton, Wisconsin from http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/american/adl/paranoia-as-patriotism/posse-comitatus.html:
“The Posse Comitatus is an intermittently active, loosely organized group of "Christian Identity" activists dedicated to survivalism, vigilantism, and anti-government agitation. Following the pseudo-religious tenets of the "Identity" movement, Posse members typically proclaim Jews to be the "synagogue of Satan," blacks and other people of color to be subhuman "mud races," and Northern European whites to be the "Chosen People" of Biblical prophecy. The name of the group translates from Latin to mean "power of the county," and the Posse believes that all governmental power is rooted at the county, not Federal, level.
Because Posse members believe that the Federal government is controlled by "enemies" - often meaning Jews - they resist paying taxes, as well as other duties of law abiding citizenship. Some members of the group have even refused to apply for driver's licenses, because this would imply submission to an "illegitimate, subversive" authority. Elements of the Posse's ideology, most notably its fierce hostility to Federal authority are echoed among today's militias.”
Our neighbors kept giving my mom and dad their hate literature, which of course I found and read, and said WHAT IS THIS???? It was vile, horrible stuff, celebrating the death of Martin Luther King Jr. even. I asked my mother why they had this in our house, and if she thought it was true, and although a rather staunch Republican, she told me she thought it was all pretty crazy, but that she had to be polite and neighborly.
It was impossible for me to reconcile, how such nice people could be so filled with rage and hate and ignorance. What did any of their kindness mean, in the end?
Eventually, they sold the farm and moved Up North where other like-minded lunatics huddled. I moved away to an even-stupider town with even fewer people but more corn and swampland. I still have my lambie, and sometimes I hold it and think about it, a comforting gift given to a little brand-new baby home from the hospital. A little Northern European white baby.
As is standard here, I move from banana bread to Christian survivalists in warp speed.