As a woman of the farm, I’ve cleaned up my share of messes.
No matter who is running the farming operation, be it known there are plenty of messes which need to be tended to — inside and outside of the house.
I can’t even count the number of times I have stepped into the mud room in our basement and been confounded by the manure-covered farm fashion accessory tornado I had apparently missed.
I have yet to hear of a room in a farm house officially titled on house plans, “the manure room.” After all, on a livestock farm, that’s mostly what’s in there, isn’t it?
Those from a generation or two before us on the farm might even think differently about what actually constitutes a mess. My husband tells of a time when his grandparents were visiting, and during that time he and his sister had paid a visit to the local taco venue and brought their delights home to devour. As they were opening them up to add more heat to them, his grandfather just blurted out what he was thinking as he laid his eyes upon the prized taco filling that was so highly anticipated by my husband and his sister.
“I’ve cleaned up better looking messes than that,” he uttered.
Outside, there are messes in the barn from the nature calls of all those animals living there; messes from birthing or even when someone left the hydrant running during chores.
If my husband asks you if I did that last week, I’ll give you five bucks to say I didn’t.
There are hog buildings and semi trailers to power wash, snow to move and messes that weasels and rats can seem to generate just by their very presence.
There are oil spills on the shop floor, fuel run-overs now and then, glass to pick up from tractor windows that break, tools following a major equipment overhaul, paint cans that fall off of a project and end up coloring the floor, bales that break open when they fall off of the bale elevator, piles of grain on the ground from a cart operator who hit the wrong button in the dark (once again, there’s five bucks in it if you swear that I’ve never done that to my husband or anyone helping us…); and sometimes there is a marriage to clean up when husbands and wives work together, hours are long and tempers and patience run short.
And even with all the stress that comes from those things, it’s no less stressful in the house. If you had ever stepped into our basement and seen the laundry piles down there when our family was growing up, you would know what liquid was really in the stain remover bottle. There were piles of ‘regular’ dirty work clothes for farm, school and office jobs; filthy hog farm work clothes; and clothes that needed a high-pressure hose and an exorcism before they were brought into the house.
There are sick days that necessitate the washing of sheets, clothing and carpets (which may have at least appeared clean beforehand). There are canning days after which the top of the stove needs a hammer and chisel; corn shucks, mud and snakes to sweep out of the garage; basements to dry out after the washing machine breaks or the access plug to the sewer pipe blows (don’t ask how I know that). There’s the degreasing of clothing, hands and towels, and sometimes even the messy job of untangling family members who have gotten into a spat they can’t seem to solve on their own.
But with all of the different messes there are to clean up, there is one mess I don’t even mind happening … and that’s the mess of wrapping paper and all the gift trimmings on the floor on Christmas Eve/morning. It’s brilliant with color, pregnant with joy and anticipation, sprinkled with wonder and laughter, and founded in the love of people we never even knew from generations before us, who are the reason for today’s room full of people who are all connected to each other in one way or another.
Some messes are worth cleaning up, if only because they mean we have a family to love, and who loves us. It’s the greatest gift — and the greatest mess — of all.
But I’ll still give you five bucks if you swear that dent in the shed door wasn’t my doing.
Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.