34 Comments

This brings up so many memories that ache. My ex-husband and I moved to this town because he announced he wanted to be an organic farmer inexplicably one day. He'd never farmed, mind you. But he'd spent many a summer scrambling around in his uncle's dairy barn, which felt idyllic and joyful, and he liked to work with his hands, so we moved to this place that made absolutely no sense to me (a lifelong city girl) because that's what you're supposed to do when you love someone, isn't it? Support their dreams even if you secretly think they're a little disconnected from reality?

Which brought us, in 2004, to buying 25 acres with a broken down house covered with tar paper and a few outbuildings (The chicken house had been used for housing calves and was full up to the knees with shit that the former owner had to scrape out with his back hoe the night of our closing.) We spent 8 years there together, raising our kids and half a dozen kinds of animals. And I tried to wedge myself into the local farm community, to be a good farm wife. I attended potlucks, talked about crop rotations and chicken feed, butchered hundreds of chickens and waxed ducks once for 11 hours straight, and did my best to garden. Because that's what a proper farm wife did, right?

The last summer we were together I wasn't working off-farm. Instead, I was homesteading-- gardening and canning constantly, filling the pantry, and figuring out how to raise rabbits for meat. The tomatoes, the pickled beets, the freezer bags of blanched green beans, the bushels of garlic hanging from the rafters and the sweet potatoes curing in paper sacks in the spare room filled my days. I will feed us well until spring, I told myself. I will finally fill out the outlines of the farm wife completely. There will be no more gaps between me and those boundaries, no leaks of ambivalence or yearning for anything but this.

When my ex-husband announced that fall he wanted a divorce and we started divvying up the house, he dismissively told me I could take the pantry of canned goods I'd spent months preparing, all while maintaining that I had become nothing but a burden to him by not working off-farm. It felt like such a betrayal. As much as his infidelity and his accusations that I had never loved him. Don't you see how I how hard I am working to care for all of us, to stake out a place for myself within your dreams?

I packed all of those mason jars into boxes and tried to eat the contents because by then I was in an apartment in town with two small children, living on child support and food stamps. But every jar tasted like death. Eventually, I just pushed them to the back of the cabinet and tried to forget them. Eleven years later, I just threw out the last of them this summer. I'd already surpassed the 7-year point, when there was no cell in my body that had been with him. But I was still carrying the weight of that unappreciated, feminine labor. It felt triumphant and also weirdly anti-climactic to finally let it go.

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Oh, Lyz this is just so good, so relatable and the way you describe the shift at the end from solitary obligation to shared, joyful effort? Chef's kiss.

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When I was reading this essay, I was reminded of your "Now That I'm Divorced, I'm Never Making Dinner for a Man Again" post - and I felt like I got a bit more of the backstory that went into it.

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Love. Just love this. Apples. Marriage. Mothering. Especially related to the worrying and teaching children to make their own food. I laughed out loud several times. "...The work is making me sweat. I’m burning calories. And because I’m an American woman, I wonder casually if this counts as a workout and whether it will help me lose weight." So glad I subscribed to your Substack.

PS Added bonus - you are teaching me it's okay to write long posts - which I can't help doing and now feel better about. :) All the thank yous.

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Gotdamn, Lyz. I know I should stop being surprised at how good your writing is, how quickly you can knock the wind out of me with an experience that's all your own but also feels intimately and uniquely like mine, but... Here I am I suppose. This article is a wonderful reminder that your writing gave me permission to get divorced, and even though there were a lot of other factors and voices giving me permission (including my own), yours is probably the most eloquent. So thanks for your writing.

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Many of the women in my family put up endless amounts of food, applesauce and apple butter, grape jelly, all kinds of veg. My mom never put up a thing.. She had fallen into some boiling apples in an orchard when she was small, she was badly burned on her back and the backs of her legs. She said her mom made cheesecloth dresses for her and cut them off everyday. She kept the cleanest tidiest little house in town but she didn’t take on any farm wife sorts of chores. She had seen enough. I learned from my aunts and because it wasn’t out of necessity I enjoyed it. I still make jam with my grandkids but that is it. I laugh at the trad housewife posts on Instagram, it’s hard, hot, relentless work, they can have it.

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I enjoy reading whatever you write about food, because I'm a very food obsessed person. I grow it, forage for it, pick it, cook it, preserve it, feed it to people, give it away, and of course eat it. I've never hated doing it yet, but I can see how that would happen dealing with it on the scale that you did. At one time I volunteered to cook dinners at a homeless shelter for a few years, making dinner for 80-100 people, and I loved cooking food in mass quantities and seeing hungry people eat it. They never complained, they loved whatever you gave them. There is such a joy in watching people eat what you've prepared. And I have an obsession with not wasting food. Cutting the good parts out of a bunch of knarly, misshapen apples? It's me. I'm the problem. My mother and grandmother were both dead by the time I was 18, and my husband couldn't care less whether or not I do those things. It's a compulsion that feels virtuous.

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Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.

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I love this. I like cooking, and feeding people, and “the earthy death smell of fall” and I also hate the way you start some big cooking or preserving project and it becomes an all consuming unholy mess and I had a grandmother who had that same farm wife pragmatism and bluntness and bitterness at how much labor it all was. I feel validated as a woman by cooking and feeding people and I also feel resentful of the labor of cooking and cleaning 3x/day, though honestly I’ve seldom done “proper” cooked meals 3x/day more often than occasionally and now my son is grown and out of the house so sometimes I don’t cook at all. But the mental load of thinking about whether there is food, whether ppl and pets eat, and when remains. It’s baked in.

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Such great insight to what makes a woman the better half🥰

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Beautiful. ❤️

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Such a beautiful essay. This makes me think about the life my grandmother lived - wholly underestimated and underappreciated (though I adored her). She canned raspberries, green beans, apples, pears, peaches, and more - I still visit her old house in Rosalia, Washington in my dreams.

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I love this all over again. I've been researching and writing about apples for many years, and they are still fascinating and complex and my richest lens into so many ways of understanding the world. I love the questions you ask, and the multiplicity of answers. Thanks for reposting, I want to read it every apple season.

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This is so perfect I can't even articulate why. Thank you.

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I thoroughly enjoyed your essay. But am I the only one who was stuck on the garbage waffles? There was something about the portrait of the children electing to eat something they had been crazy enough to refuse that just stuck with me. I can't think of another writer describing this activity, but it is just a universal experience.

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Thank you. And the illustrations are gorgeous too.

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