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Even though she would never have thought of referring to herself as a “girl” in other contexts, because she thought it was a bit silly when she was theoretically old enough to be a grandmother, though she doubted that would never happen, given that you had to be a mother first, Marsha Pendleton still happily and proudly referred to herself as a country girl. Often adding riders like a country girl at heart, or a country girl born and bred. Those who were more pedantic (a trait Marsha herself was prone to) could have pointed out that the born wasn’t technically true, as she was not born at home, but at a modern hospital in the nearest town, but that was just quibbling. After all, despite what some people in their memoirs or autobiographies claimed, Marsha doubted anyone remembered the first week or even the first months of their life. And her first memories were of Rose Ridge Farm. She felt her heart swell and her eyes prickle even now, sitting in her neat little new build semi on the outskirts of the city, as she thought of fields of golden waving wheat, and birdsong uninterrupted by the sound of the stirring and whirring of a city. Well, okay, maybe at harvest time when the combine set up its own monotonous music, but that was part of the natural cycle of the year. Unlike some children, she had never been scared of the combine, and her father had let her sit up beside him on it sometimes, but she had always been brought up to respect it and not to “lark about” by it, as her Dad said.

People think you’re making it up, or romanticising, thought Marsha, but I don’t care, it’s true. Fruit does taste best when it comes from your own orchard, and vegetables when they come from your own fields. Her family’s farm was an arable farm, but they did keep chickens, and oh, those newly-laid golden yolked eggs ….. she hardly ever ate an egg now. Even the most expensive, highest standard ones, with all the welfare and quality awards in the world were just, well, wrong.

She had always been brought up to be realistic, and to know that while her Mum and Dad didn’t stop her giving the chickens names, the time would come when they were on the table. And she had never felt sick or scared of eating Hetty or Henny (she wasn’t the most original child in her choice of names) but just accepted it. She knew they’d had a fine life, and she couldn’t know that about any chicken she bought now, no matter how many labels and awards it had. She’d seen one of those films about conditions at even the most so-called humane facilities.

But Marsha was a fundamentally honest woman and she knew she wasn’t really fretting about the welfare of chickens, but about herself. They were allowed pets on Willow Close, and she had a cat, an amiable but rather distant creature whom she called Rosie, but it made a point in the tenancy agreement of pointing out that you weren’t allowed to keep chickens or any other livestock. She wondered if anyone else knew quite how ridiculous that was. The notion of keeping livestock, even chickens, in those little gardens was absurd. But she still wouldn’t be surprised if someone had defied it. She had tried to grow vegetables, but they never flourished – it was as if this thin, grey, city soil, even those over-priced concoctions in gaudy plastic coating just didn’t suit them. She had grown some herbs in pots, but was well aware it was what her Dad, not in a nasty way, because he was never a nasty man, had called play farming.

Her sister Eunice, who meant well, had said, “Well, at least they’ve not put you in one of those high rise blocks.”

That was a fair point, Marsha supposed, and yet sometimes she wondered, for all their disadvantages, if there might be something less claustrophobic and confining about being ten, twelve stories up, with a clear few of the sky and maybe, just maybe, on a clear day, being able to catch a distant glance of the edges of the countryside. The truth was, she thought she might even have quite liked the city in an odd kind of way if she could look down on it. That would be different from feeling hemmed in by it, and maybe, just maybe, the ugliness would blur and diffuse and she would only see the contours and the patterns.

She had tried, though not very hard, to explain to Eunice that it wasn’t so much that she hated cities as she hated living in one.

Marsha had pointed out, reasonably enough, that it was only a medium sized provincial city, it was hardly a metropolis or a megacity, or any of those other words beginning with “M”. But couldn’t that be worse? Though Marsha was no expert on such places, what she did know was that they had districts, and they had parks, in some cases large ones where it truly was almost like being in the country. This city was not big enough, and not rich enough, to have any real parks. Oh, it had a couple of children’s playgrounds, and some grassy verges, but for the most part, the concrete outskirts merged into the concrete centre, and the concrete retail areas merged into residential areas that might, at least, often be brick built, but even the bricks were wrong. The bricks at Rose Ridge Farm had been centuries old, mellow and substantial, glowing in the summer sun, shielding from the winter snows.

Oh, come on, she told herself, determinedly. You can’t come over all sentimental about bricks!

But there was a difference between “shouldn’t” and “can’t”.

She would never get used to having neighbours. When she had been at Rose Ridge Farm, their neighbours had been the Appletons at Bridge Farm, and though they had got on perfectly well, they lived a mile away, and that made a difference. It wasn’t even as if she had bad neighbours on Willow Close. There were Bob and Caroline Pleasance whom, she reflected, were well named, in the other half of her semi, and whom she still thought of as the nice old couple though they weren’t really that much older than she was, and in the slightly larger house at Number 22 were the “blended” Aniston family (there were other surnames there, too, but that was the one they generally settled for to make things less complicated). The youngest members of it, Kyle and Katie, were – well, that word again, nice kids. Oh, they could be boisterous, and run around, and drag large and small toys on wheels and with flashing lights behind them, but Marsha had to admit that they probably were better behaved and less noisy than she and Eunice had been, but the trouble was, they didn’t have nearly as much room to be noisy and boisterous in, so it was more noticeable. But she had to admit that she wasn’t at all pleased by the way Kyle and Katie had responded when she told them about her childhood at the farm. The plan was that they were wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Oh, Marsha, that must have been wonderful!” They called her Marsha, though at their age she would never have used a grown-up’s name without a brevet Auntie or Uncle. But she was fine with it, and didn’t mind. What she did mind was that though they put up a positively heroic struggle to be polite (no mean feat for frank-spoken under tens, she supposed) it was plain that they weren’t impressed. “But – I mean – did you have nowhere to GO?” asked Katie.

“We didn’t need to have anywhere to go,” she replied. If the children could force themselves to be polite, so could she, and she didn’t add what she was thinking about children nowadays (of course, one of those phrases we all say we will never use and inevitably do) being quite incapable of making their own amusement. It wouldn’t have been entirely fair, anyway. They did have clubs and classes, but were by no means incapable of amusing themselves, inside or out.

“Wouldn’t you have liked to have somewhere to go?” Kyle picked up his sister’s theme.

But this time, somehow, the denial didn’t come with ease and vehemence. The truth was, yes, she would have liked to have had somewhere to go. Her childhood had been happy, yes, but it hadn’t been perfect. And no point to pretending otherwise, her relationship with Eunice hadn’t been problem and friction free. Oh, they were close, and each would most ferociously defend the other against “outside attack”. But they were very different girls and rubbed each other up the wrong way, sometimes. Even as a child, Eunice was the kind of person who saw to things the minute they needed seeing to, and Marsha put things off. Eunice was very sporty and seemed to be born weatherproof, whilst Marsha, though not a lazy child, was often happier with her books and had decided already that no matter what some children’s books said, splashing around in puddles, as the rain still fell, even with decent wellies on, was vastly over-rated.

No, there was really no point to denying it. There had been times when she had deeply resented living so far away from where most of her schoolmates did, and though she and Eunice, in their different ways, had both been quite popular and never bullied, they had still had the feeling of being outsiders and of not fitting in. There were practical considerations too. Though there was a school bus at “home time”, otherwise public transport in the area was erratic and rather sparse. Even for children brought up to walk fairly long distances, it was still too far for them to walk home from school, and sometimes, especially at certain times of the year, their Dad just couldn’t pick them up, no matter how much he may have wanted to. So there were problems with after-school activities. The staff tried to be as kind and accommodating as possible, but Marsha, who had a good singing voice, just couldn’t be a reliable member of the choir, and though she was an excellent player, Eunice couldn’t really play in the hockey team. They ended up sitting in the hall, or standing on the sidelines when there were concerts or matches.

Oh, of course there were compensations, massive ones. But all the same …..

“Penny for them!” Kyle said with an endearingly cheeky grin, using one of Marsha’s own favourite phrases.

“Oh, I’m sure they’re worth at least tuppence,” Katie finished the phrase.

“Sorry, I was miles away,” Marsha admitted.

“We weren’t meaning to be RUDE,” said Katie, speaking for both of them, but her brother nodded vigorously. “I mean, I’m sure it was lovely on the farm. Mum would probably say so. She really loves Countryfile!”

“I like some of it,” Kyle said, as if considering something of overwhelming importance. But not when they start going on about minoculations and stuff like that.”

“I think you mean inoculations,” Marsha smiled. “They’re necessary, though I agree they’re not very interesting. That didn’t really apply to us as we didn’t have animals apart from the chickens and our own pets, but there were similar sorts of things.”

Their Mum and Dad, even before it had become such a “thing”, as the children might have said, had genuinely meant to go organic, and made some changes, but it just wouldn’t have worked out economically to go the whole way, and she and Eunice, literally from when they could toddle around, knew that there were chemicals that were generally kept behind closed doors and should be, but just in case, they must know they would never touch them, and when their Dad said that, he had that “serious” look and his voice was very quiet, which always meant it was really significant, and not heeding what he said went well beyond the normal naughty.

When she was a child Marsha never could quite grasp how things that were so poisonous that they needed to be kept behind lock and key could help healthy food to grow.

And even apart from the chemicals, she remembered the pungent odour of “muck spreading time” and how it caught in her throat and made her feel sick. Not to mention the sceptic tank drainage!

The truth was, life was complicated. She’d had a happy childhood and was never going to say she hadn’t, but it hadn’t all been perfect. And in a way, she had been far more trapped than she was now. She exchanged a few more words with the children, and then said, truthfully enough, that she needed to go and get some shopping. She changed her library books while she was out, and wasn’t ashamed that her shopping included a couple of M & S ready meals! She could cook passably enough if she had to, but unlike her Mum, had never really enjoyed it, and even her Mum had been heard to say that Agas weren’t always all they were cracked up to be.

Perhaps I’m turning into a town girl after all, she thought. But maybe the truth was that now she was neither country girl nor town girl. Not really content where she was living, not really hankering for where she used to live.

Misery guts, she reproached herself. Well, she wasn’t going to reproach herself over that, either. There was no obligation to be upbeat about everything, no matter what some folk said.

All the same, a sudden thought lightened her mood and made her look forward to her lasagne. Neither wasn’t the only word that applied. There was also the word both.

March 17, 2021 09:09

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1 comment

Ashley Slaughter
03:13 Mar 27, 2021

Nice story! I used to live in the country on a farm before moving to the city for college, and Marsha's acclimation to city living was truly relatable!


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