Thoughts of Home: Country living is the life for me

It’s a labor of love
Thoughts of Home
Illustration by Clare Mallison

We’d talked about moving to the country, each of us giving up our single homes. And it was on a summer night in my Marietta apartment eight years ago that we agreed to look for a farm, during a meal of halibut, figs with goat cheese, and a fresh arugula salad. We’d seek out a place with less than 10 acres—some room to hold our informal literary retreats, grow vegetables, and keep chickens for eggs.

When we moved into the farmhouse, the sky was clear and blue, dusky red leaves flittering across the fescue pasture. Blackbirds hopped along fence posts in the crisp air, as the sheep we’d bought from neighbors bawled. We’d decided to learn how to shear them, using the wool to crochet and knit. Nancy believed she could teach me, and I countered with, “If I’m gonna knit, you’re gonna learn how to cook.” We shook on it.

The following spring, the entire farm pulsed with more shades of green than we’d ever considered. The sheep needed shearing and we believed the task would take us no more than two hours. After all, we’d watched YouTube videos, read books, and Nancy had even visited our neighbors to observe how real farmers did it.

At dusk, nearly eight hours later, we had the ram looking like Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks, sporting a raggedy toupee, his legs like a French poodle’s. We rose early the next morning and worked hard to finish the job, spending nearly the entire day trying to spare the sheep from ridicule. In the end, we indeed had three bags full of wool, and believed—why, I’m not certain—that we could card it, spin it, and make yarn. After three weeks of failed attempts that left us red-eyed and frustrated, we found a company online where we could ship the wool and have it returned in any color of yarn we wanted, without even the faintest impact on our relationship.

I was painfully slow when I crocheted, my clumsy fingers operating as if I wore splints. Nancy and I had sworn off of cable TV, but had gotten into Netflix binging. The entire Andy Griffith series was our backdrop as we vowed to make socks for each other. It was late summer in 2008, and the raised beds had fared much better than the sheep. We had tomatoes, green onions, and all manner of herbs, and chicken poop really did make things grow overnight.

Nancy’s first attempt at making a crepe with our own eggs seemed doomed from the start. “You have seen a crepe, right?” I asked, as she slid a thick, slab-like cake onto my plate. I ate it because it was the right thing to do, and because I sensed my socks might not measure up either.

When autumn returned and we celebrated our first year, she surprised me with not one, but three pairs of socks, all made from our sheep, Comer, Lily, and May—perfect fits, all. I offered up the socks I’d crocheted for her, and once we managed to get the misshapen forms on her feet, she stood, whimpered, and sat back down. My big, inelegant braids were like stones beneath her soles.

It took us several seasons to shear without shame, to cook like chefs, and to crochet together without harm, watching Breaking Bad rather than Andy Griffith. And one cold morning not long ago, we ate delicate crepes suzette at our kitchen table, both of us wearing colorful wool hats, smiling and talking about all we’d learned.

Crandell is the author of seven books, including The All-American Industrial Motel, a memoir that won the Georgia Writers Association Author of the Year award in 2008.