Winter can put a strain on finances and relationships. By the third winter on the farm, I made some discoveries that would alter the way I was living. First, the money I had put aside for home improvements and living expenses was running out a lot faster than I had anticipated; second, my carpenter friend was stealing money from my purse, and also making a little extra cash by pilfering and re-selling some of the equipment I bought. He needed to leave, and since he couldn’t present a good argument against it, he packed all his woodworking equipment into his truck and off he went.
Then, I sat down to figure out my budget for the coming season. I needed to be able to pay my bills, set aside money for planting supplies for the vegetable garden, and keep up the payments on my land contract, which was a priority over everything else. It was time for me to find a job.
When I was working in Milwaukee, I had lots of experience as a secretary and bookkeeper. So, when I typed up my resume, I was satisfied that I had enough qualifications to be an excellent candidate for an office position. There were two things I had not foreseen: first, the 1980’s recession affected rural areas adversely (the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s); second, I was not a “local”. When there’s a recession going on, people tend to hang on to their jobs, so there weren’t a lot of options listed in the paper. However, there were always a few office positions in the county administrative buildings, the hospital or the schools, and I diligently mailed resumes and cover letters and remained optimistic. I usually got an interview followed by a rejection letter a week or so later. I couldn’t figure it out, until I had an interview at the same county office with the same administrator for the third time who was kind enough to tell me the facts. She said I had excellent qualifications, and if she could, she would hire me, but the job had already been promised to someone. Then, the reality of the situation dawned on me. I was not a “local”. Jobs in rural areas are given to people that are well known: the neighbors’ daughter, the girl who worked at the checkout counter during high school, the girl who babysat the business owner’s kids. In other words, people who have lived in the township all their lives, not some hippie who just moved here from the city.
I finally got a job at a dismal newspaper office typing up articles and announcements. I thought it was a bit unusual that I was hired on the spot, but I was glad to be employed, even though it was only two days a week. The newspaper was owned by a family, and after the first day, I noticed this family appeared to be demonically possessed. None of the family members who worked there acknowledged my presence or said good morning as they went sulking around the office. The only one who communicated with me was the daughter, who would stand behind me while I typed on this odd-looking monstrosity that looked like those old teletype machines. I could type 60 wpm, but the daughter would stand behind me and say, “you have to type faster”. Not only was this creepy and unnerving, but I would make mistakes during these irrational moments which only made her mad. I gathered the idea was to get as much typing out of me as possible for my wages, but it was an inhuman way to treat someone. It was then I realized that I could find employment only in those jobs that none of the local people would ever consider!
After about eight months I found a full-time job at a center for disabled adults. I was hired as an activity assistant, which is a minimum wage position that includes all the assigned tasks the supervisors wouldn’t do (just use your imagination here). But, I finally made enough income to save a little money, build up my bank account and get storm windows installed on my farm house. Yes!
So, things were looking up for a while, and then life threw me another punch. First, the LP space heater in the living room stopped working; then the LP space heater in the kitchen started acting up in a dangerous way. So, I decided that it was time to get a real furnace and duct work for my home. I got a used furnace really cheap from a friend; and then I called the Co-op where my LP gas came from and arranged for them to do the duct work and furnace installation. Although finishing another job, they assured me they could do the work by mid-October (sure). Happily the weather was still mild enough that I could use my little electric space heaters to warm up the house in the morning and let the sun do the rest. By mid- October the installers said they were still working on a project, but would here in a few weeks. OK. October came and went, and hearing nothing in November, I called them again. They “ran into a few problems” but assured me they would be done by December. December?!
By now my space heaters were barely keeping the house comfortable enough, my cat was growing outdoor fur; I had to take some action to keep warm. I got a big plastic tarp, covered the doorway from the kitchen to the rest of the house, and dragged my mattress and all the warm clothing, blankets and pillows I had into the kitchen. The kitchen (and bathroom) was to be my living space until my furnace was installed. Meanwhile, I was freezing and so were my pipes. When I lay down at night I would hear a “boing” sound, which was a pipe bursting. This went on until I finally heard a “bong” sound, which was my shallow well pump cracking in half. I went into the basement once to check on things and found icicles hanging from the pipes. Nice.
With January came the good news that I finally got my furnace and ductwork installed and the house warmed up. I took down the plastic tarp, threw out all my frozen houseplants, and got back to a somewhat normal life. I didn’t have plumbing in the house anymore from all the damage; so, I brought water into the house in buckets and gallon jugs from my well, which was operated by an old-fashioned Monitor pump that brought the water up to an access spout (just like in the good old days). I really didn’t mind doing this at all; it was just another adventure in living the way people used to before indoor plumbing. I learned to conserve water and take a bath in a bucket, and utilized the “save-a-flush” method by using the bath water to flush—see how this can work? I kept myself and my house clean and was a bit proud of my innovations.
One day, as I was reading the paper, I spotted a help-wanted ad for employment at a new business in town called Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (C.R.O.P.P.). The word “Organic” flew off the page and hit me in the head. I put the paper down and headed out to see what this was all about. The business was located in an aging building on the edge of town which had once been a cheese factory and, as I entered the upstairs offices, I was greeted by the smell of Patchouli, incense and strong coffee. I had found my tribe!
And, that is another story.