“There are three kittens under the car.”

My husband warned his cousin as she fastened her three kids in their car seats and climbed inside the driver’s seat.

She started the ignition. The black one darted out the side.

My husband and a few of his relatives knelt down and called to the cats. The grey one ran from the back. Finally, the brown striped one sauntered out from the front of the car.

“That’s it. You’re good.”

**

By the end of the weekend, I realized that there are pretty much always at least three cats under your car. Waiting for them to scatter is the farm-life equivalent of looking in the rear view mirror for a neighbor walking the dog or a little kid riding a bike. Out in the country, there are no neighbors. Or sidewalks. But lots of cats.

I like noticing these differences when we get a chance to visit my husband’s family in southern Illinois. This was his grandfather’s farm, now passed down to his aunt and uncle. We both grew up in a small town about 30 minutes away. But the farm was an important part of the person my husband is today.

Oh, and I forgot… we don’t really measure distance in minutes on the farm. I should have said “25 miles.”

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On the farm, kids start riding four-wheelers as soon as their legs are long enough to touch the gas pedal. Or sooner.

The oldest of our aunt’s grandkids is 7. He rests his foot on top of the foot of an adult so he can reach the gas, and he’s good to go.

This kid and his two little brothers haven’t known anything but life on the farm. Both of their parents grew up on farms in this little town. Both sets of grandparents live on farms just a few miles down the road from theirs. Their great grandparents also spent their lives working the farm.

The 7-year-old steps outside in his cowboy boots and jeans and removes a large plate from the top of a metal container that’s sitting on the patio.

“Hmmm,” he sighs.

“What’s wrong?” we ask.

“I put my toad in there. Somehow it got out.”

“I hate it when that happens,” I laugh to myself, realizing we don’t run into this problem very often where we live. Yes. We have toads. But we typically don’t try to store them in metal containers on the porch.

**

I wonder what our lives would have been like if we would have stayed in southern Illinois. When we moved to the suburbs of Chicago 20 years ago, we promised ourselves it would only be for a year or two.

When my husband is on the farm, he is transformed. He can stand in the machine shed for hours talking to his cousins about farm stuff. He looks lighter. He smiles bigger. He is free.

He is a different person than the guy who gets up at 5 a.m. to catch the train into Chicago every day. Most people don’t ever see this side of him.

**

Kent’s cousin collects three sets of cowboys boots and three sets of rain boots to get his three boys ready to go home. Their pile of footwear isn’t for fashion. These are essentials for stomping around the farm. Especially with so much rain.

The rain is a constant topic of conversation. Kent’s uncle knows just how much fell after each storm. “We got an inch yesterday,” he will tell us.

The rain has been annoying where we live. It cancels our plans to go to the pool or the zoo or to play outside.

On the farm, the rain is threatening their livelihood for the year. Kent’s aunt explains that they only have a few more days to plant fields that are still covered in water. Their goal is to plant all of their fields by June 6. It’s July 7.

They’ve planted some fields twice. It has rained so much that the seeds were drowned and washed away both times before they had time to sprout. They can’t even get into many of the fields because they are too muddy and drenched to drive their machinery. We quietly marvel at the thought of how their existence is so dependent on the weather.

As the sky turns dark, and we prepare for another storm, we all shake our heads in disbelief.

**

The sky feels huge on the farm. There’s not much to obstruct our view of the sunset. It’s so quiet. Too quiet for me at times.

I look at our kids and their cousins and think about how different their lives are.

Our children love the feeling of freedom when they get to ride a 4-wheeler through the farm fields. They walk to the pond to catch fish. They have learned to shoot guns. They look for toads, visit the cows, hold the kittens and take food to the dog.

I love our visits. But I’m usually happy to get back home. I like having a Target just 10 minutes away in any direction. I like seeing neighbors walk down the sidewalk. I like a little more noise.

I also have a greater appreciation for the long days our relatives spend in the fields so we can have food to eat.

 

**

We got home from the farm on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, I went out to our garage and started the minivan. I sat there for a minute and then I remembered with just a tinge of sadness, “Awwww. There are no kittens under the car.”

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