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Starting Over: Going Back to the Country

A photo of the Modern Day RedneckVisualize this. The game is baseball. The batter is warmed up and ready and steps into the batters box. First the left foot then the right, grinding the toe of his shoe into the dirt to get the right grip. The pitcher is waiting, leaned slightly forward one hand tightly gripping the ball behind his back and staring straight ahead with extreme focus. The batter takes a couple of practice swings to find his grove then sets back ready for the pitch. He has studied this pitcher for many years and knows without a doubt, this pitch is going to be a fast ball.

Here’s the wind up, swing and a miss. To the batter’s disbelief, it was a curve ball. This is the best way to describe what life did to me a couple of months ago.

At age eighteen I promised my newlywed wife a life of luxury and ease. Fifteen years later she finally called my bluff. We started out in a two room shack I built paycheck by paycheck back on the family farm. This place was temporary, of course. “Just for a year or so,” I kept telling myself.

Our temporary two-room old farm house turned into 15 years of memories. I added on to that old thing at least four times. In the end, the house covered the whole hillside. With never building much more than an animal barn, the walls were so loose you could have thrown a full grown mountain lion through them and never hit a stud.

Life on that hill was not easy, and I feel that I am a lucky man that she stayed right beside me for all those hard years. We were so broke we could barely afford food much less propane or electricity to cook it on. We cooked outside in open pits for most of the year, and when it was too cold or the rain kept us inside, we cooked on the pot belly stove we had tucked in the corner of the living room. To this day I still think a pot belly stove cooks the best pot of red beans.

For power, we tapped into my dad’s shop over 1000 feet away. All we could have on was the small ice box (refrigerator) and a couple of lights. Anything else would trip the breaker, and I would have to make the long hike down the hill the turn it back on. So we ran oil lamps for light during the evenings. When the kids started getting older and asking questions, we would just say, “We are play camping.” They never seemed to mind.

I ran a water line from the nearest barn after figuring out hauling water up the hill to the house was really not my thing. The girls refused to use the out house after a small incident with my mother and a raccoon. I swear, I didn’t think anyone could run that fast with their pants around their ankles. We still laugh about it today. So, for the sewer, I dug a hole and put some concrete culverts as my septic tanks and ran the lateral lines on top of the ground back in the woods. Out of sight, out of mind right? I never did tell my wife where all those lush red tomatoes came from.

Even with all the fun, all I could think about was getting off the farm and starting a new life. I wanted to buy a real home and give my family something better. I wanted them to be proud of themselves and to be proud of what they had. It broke my heart to see my little girl cry when one of her friend’s mom would not let her daughter get out of the car for fear of the rednecks. I was embarrassed; we as a family were embarrassed.

At age thirty-five, I moved for the very first time. It was one of hardest things I have ever done as an adult. This farm is where my Grandfather was raised, where my Dad was raised, where I was raised, and it was where my children started being raised. Every story and memory I have centers around this home place.

We moved into a brick home on a half acre lot in a small sleepy town 20 miles north. The important thing to know is this was the first time I ever had neighbors. The very first weekend in the new house we threw a house warming party. All my family and redneck friends came up, and we had a great time just like we did on the farm. Before long, our driveway was packed and our front yard was full of cars. Then before I realized it, both of the neighbors’ yards were full of cars. I did not really see a problem in this due to the fact I had invited them over for BBQ the day before and that meant we were like family. To my surprise the new neighbors had a hard time seeing it this way. Needless to say I did not make a great first impression. After the smoke cleared, I told them I would fix all the ruts in their yards and pick up all the trash. We never did find that missing dog.

It only took about three months before the newness of the house wore off, and I started thinking this might be a bad deal I got myself into. All the sudden, I had a $1500 a month house payment with all the bills to go with it. The good news was I had a good paying job and worked 70 hours a week. The 30 hours a week of overtime on my check made for easy living, but in the back of my mind I knew the overtime couldn’t last forever.

Little did I know just 4 years later my overtime would be cut off, and my wife would not be able to work. Life lesson number one, never budget for overtime. With only one income and a little 40-hour check, we could not keep the house. I did the budget and made the decision. We needed to get out before the sheriff threw us out.

The New Place

We found a little place out in the country and moved in over this past Thanksgiving. It is a mobile home and sits on two acres with a 30-by-50 barn tucked on the back fence line. It’s by far not the old farm place, but I think I can make it work. I have a 3-year plan to be completely self-sufficient and off the grid. So far I have built the dog pen, a compost area, put in two raised-bed gardens, built the foundation for the patio, started the small animal barn, built a wind turbine and put up one of those little metal buildings for a tool shed near the house. I could have built one heck of a barn in the same time it took me to put that stupid little thing together, never again!

I have 48 projects in total in order to reach my goal.

Looking back now, life on the farm was great. It is hard to think I ever wanted to leave that place. I was free, I was off the grid, and most of all it was paid for. I can look back and see how living away the past 4 years I have been trying to recreate that same way of life. While living in the city, I had a rain water harvesting system, a few chickens, a green house, several gardens, a cooking pit and was on the verge of getting some pygmy goats for the milk. I heated the house with the fireplace throughout most of the winter because I never had central heat and really did not like it. I ran oil lamps most nights because I love the light it gives off.

On a smaller scale, I can have that freedom back. It will take a little while and a lot of hard work to get everything the way I want it, but the key thing is I am back in the country.

Keep up with MDR’s daily progress at Modern Day Redneck

paul gardener
2/17/2010 1:12:54 PM

Funny how what you think you don't want, or what is wrong with what you have, may just be the thing that makes you the happiest. I work a full time desk job, and while I consider myself blessed for the fact that I earn a good living and can provide a very comfortable living for my family, for years I was miserable in it because I was focused on how it was not the life I thought I wanted. I wanted the home in the country, room to have chickens and big gardens and to provide more for ourselves. One day the epiphany came that I wasn't even using the land I had, why did I want more? I had an idea of what life was supposed to look like if I got what I wanted but forgot to live the life I had. Things have changed in the last few years. It's amazing what happens when you stop focusing on what you think you don't want and start focusing on what you do. I think you're certainly going in the right direction. Family, freinds and a life lived honestly are the best things one could ask for in this world. Thanks for your honest account. I look forward to more. Paul~


anotherkindofdrew
2/16/2010 7:31:33 PM

I cannot tell you how poignant your post is. My wife and I live on a family farm in the same home as my parents. It is a large house and comfortable for us all. But it isn't what I originally told my wife we would have for ourselves. In fact, when we met I had quite a bit of money in the bank and a lot of ambition to take us any further. But life happens and we soon found ourselves needing to downsize and wanting to sacrifice our hours of work for more quality time together and to begin our own family. In the past two years my family has created such a cool place; one that I could not even have dreamed of a few years ago. With our barn, chicken coop, gardens, hoop house, outdoor adobe oven, raised beds, goat pen and other little accouterments we have learned what life is really about; love, laughter, time together, sunrises and sunsets. My man, you are at such a good place. You have seen both sides of the coin and as I see it God has richly blessed you. You have a wonderful wife it seems, children, good health and a home. Good on you! Thank you for sharing your story. I feel like I know you now and if you ever invited me over for some BBQ you better believe I'd pull up on the grass if need be!


vickie
2/16/2010 4:47:32 PM

You've got a great start on a new life and it sounds wonderful. I think that's the only way to go (off the grid)-the more we can do for ourselves the better. vickie


s.m.r. saia
2/16/2010 3:14:25 PM

Thanks so much for sharing this story. You write so well, and with so much transparency and honesty. I've really been enjoying your blog. It sounds like you know exactly what you want and need to do. More power to you. I look forward to hearing more about your progress. We're really interested in being able to live off-grid too. This past month our electric bill was almost as much as our mortgage. Today we ordered a cast-iron pot-bellied stove.