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Authors: Mardi Jo Link

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Adult, #Biography

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm

BOOK: Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Copyright © 2013 by Mardi Jo Link

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Selected chapters in this work were previously published, in different form, in the following:
Bear River Review
Bellingham Review
(Spring 2009),
Creative Nonfiction
(Fall 2012), and
Writing It Real
(February 2009).

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
Alfred A. Knopf: Excerpt from
Mars and Her Children
by Marge Piercy.
Copyright © 1992 by Middlemarsh, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Graywolf Press: Excerpt from “Windchime” from
What Narcissism Means to Me
by Tony Hoagland. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company: Excerpt from “Another Night in the Ruins” from
Three Books
by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 1993 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Jennifer Michael Hecht: Excerpt from “Chicken Pig” from
by Jennifer Michael Hecht. University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Linda Parsons Marion: Excerpt from “Home Fire” from
Home Fires: Poems
by Linda Parsons Marion. Sow’s Ear Press, 1997. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Link, Mardi.
Bootstrapper / Mardi Jo Link.
p.   cm.
eISBN: 978-0-385-34967-3
1. Link, Mardi.  2. Link, Mardi—Homes and haunts—Michigan.  I. Title.
HV28.L57A3  2013
630.92—dc23                               2012042425

Front-of-jacket photograph: Image Source / Getty Images
Jacket design by Kelly Blair



Owen, Luke, Will, and Pete

June 2005

The thought gradually permeated Mr. Jeremiah Cobb’s slow-moving mind that the bird perched by his side was a bird of very different feather from those to which he was accustomed … Rebecca’s eyes were like faith—“the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

A perfectly bonny summer morning on the farm and I’m just this side of plowed. Nobody likes a drunk farmer. Or rather, farmeress. Nobody likes a drunk farmeress. Nobody likes a drunk, soon-to-be divorced, in-debt, swollen-eyed, single-mother farmeress, because she simply can’t get any work done this way.

It is almost July, the time of year when work piles up like cordwood. I should be weeding, I should be watering, I should be mucking out stalls, I should be turning the compost pile. Last night’s honey moon is a waning moon today; time to sow root
crops again. Beets, carrots, radishes, onions. So at the very least, I should be planting.

Instead, I grab another beer.

My physical safety behind the wheel of farm machinery is not in any jeopardy, because I’m too broke to own a tractor. This place, at only six acres, is too small to justify one anyway. A blessing really, because right now I could harrow something. I could harrow something real good.

If I know anything I know this: no two states of being entice the unsuspecting female bystander with more money-for-jam-promise than farming and marriage. And I fell for both of them. Fell for them like Scarlett fell for Rhett and Tara, like Isak Dinesen fell for that big-game hunter and a farm in Africa, like Eve fell for the garden snake.

“The serpent beguiled me,” Eve admitted, “and I did eat.”

I hear you, sister. I took a big old bite out of that very same apple and look what it got me: debt, heartbreak, and perpetually ragged cuticles. The only thing growing here today is my livestock-sized thirst.

Through binoculars I watch my new neighbor, Mr. Wonderful, take out his trash. He lugs, jerks, drags, and kicks the floppy bags down his dirt driveway. His slipper tears a hole in one of them and a buffet of stink dribbles out.

My view of his activity is unobstructed for two reasons. One, because my farmhouse has a wraparound front porch, the kind that invites a long pull on a mid-morning beer, and two, because Mr. Wonderful’s driveway is dead ahead.

A week ago this man lived with me; now he lives right across the road from me. In this rural spot on a hill several miles outside of town where drivers are all going somewhere, or coming from
somewhere, he’s one of my only neighbors. He’s also the father of our three sons and my husband of more than nineteen years. We won’t make it to twenty. Which is why he’s now in binocular range.

“Wonderful” is not the name on his mailbox, of course, but it is the name my friends have bestowed upon him. A name my high-school English teacher taught us was a “euphemism”: a polite way to express something blunt or offensive. I have a euphemism living directly across the road. Walk to the end of my long driveway, turn right, sashay past a hedge of the now apocalyptically named “Bridal Veil” bushes, face the road, and there you are—staring at his chipped cement doorstep.

Depending upon your viewpoint, it is either good luck or an epic fail that the place was available for rent when I finally found my voice and said the word “divorce.”

Easier for the kids
, he said.

Won’t need a moving van
, he said.

, I said.

When you live out in the country and find you have arrived, through great fault of your own, at a footing so precarious you can barely communicate without cusswords, is having your soon-to-be-ex-husband and father of your three sons living across the road from you a good thing? I’m still trying to figure that out. The beer may or may not be helping.

“Do you think it’s been easy for me?” he’d shouted, his body ridged and jutting forward in a way that seemed to defy gravity. “Waking up every goddamn morning next to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm?”

Perpetual good cheer, it turns out, can kill a marriage. And really, who knew?

, I wondered,
was there not to be cheerful about?

I’ve wanted to live on a farm ever since I was a little girl and my upwardly mobile parents moved my brother and me from one apartment, duplex, and bi-level to the next, finally settling down for good in a “ranch”-style house in “Country Estates.” But real farms were where you had gardens. Real farms were where you had space. Best of all, real farms, and not subdivisions, were where you had

I am a Sagittarius, of course, the zodiac sign that is half horse, half human, and we want what we want and we want it now. It’s taken some doing, but I finally have an honest-to-God country estate of my own. Six precious acres, a mammoth garden, a red barn, and inside it, custom stalls for my two blessed horses.

We Sagittarians do indeed want what we want, and we do indeed want it now, but we are willing to work hard to get it. And anywhere you look around here, that is exactly what you see: work.

I watch through my binoculars as Mr. Wonderful walks back to his rented garage and loads up with the last of his trash, the unbaggables. A vacuum cleaner—the upright kind, with a houndstooth-patterned bag. A burned-out barbecue grill teetering on rusted legs. Naugahyde kitchen chairs with symmetrical rips in the edges from years of swiveling up against their matching table. So that’s what happened to the dinette set. When he moved out, he must have taken it with him. And here I thought it was still safely stored in our garage.

His curb soon becomes home to all of the things he took when he moved out but that I imagine his (rumored) Internet girlfriend cannot abide. The same friends who bestowed the “Mr. Wonderful”
moniker on him are active online and tell me that he already has a “dating profile.” I don’t even know what that is.

On top of one of the kitchen chairs he stacks a pile of waterlogged magazines (
Organic Gardening
?—he kept both in his workshop) and a brass floor lamp that looks, with my binocular vision, like someone had repurposed it into a giant bong. But that can’t be right. Because if that’s what it is, there is no way he would be getting rid of it. He’s a smoking man, not a drinking man. Even our vices are at odds with each other.

I scan the horizon and get a surprise. This is not necessarily all trash after all. Because a big sign made of lime-green tagboard stapled to a post is pounded into the ground next to his pile. In black marker it reads, “Free!”

Which is a lie. I can tell you for an absolute fact that someone paid handsomely for all that wreckage, and that someone is me.

A self-help book I checked out of the library on how to have a peaceful and Zen-like divorce is spread open on my lap, making a nice flat place to set the binoculars down when they get too heavy. Chapter 1, page 1 gives this advice: Harbor no opinion on Mr. Wonderful. An opinion means being attached, and being attached means suffering, and suffering means, well, more suffering.

In my Miller High Life glaze, this circular spiritual notion feels like real wisdom. So. Right.
. Religiously, I am confused: a familiar state of being I am usually okay with, but one that would be nice to have clarified during this crisis point.

But here’s some good news: I’ve barely cracked open this Zen book and it is already starting to make practical sense to me. Maybe I’ve been a Buddhist all along, trapped inside a Protestant’s body. I was adopted by my parents as a baby, so my spiritual DNA
could contain anything. Genetically, maybe I’m a Baptist, a Unitarian, a pagan—or yes, even a Buddhist. Although I have a feeling that pregnant teenage Buddhists were in short supply in Michigan in the early 1960s, when I was born and placed.

From my fenced backyard, our two dogs are howling. Which they sometimes do when Mr. Wonderful is outside. They can’t see him, but they can smell him, they remember him, and I believe they even still love him. I’ve read that canines howl in unison for one of two reasons: either the pack has just been reunited after an absence, or the members remain separated and long for the moment when they will all be together again.

“You two would never make it as Zen dogs!” I slur. Loudly.

This outburst certainly won’t upset my few other neighbors. Hollering at your dogs from one side of your property to the other, first thing in the morning and well lubricated with alcohol, is nothing to get your back up about here in northern Michigan.

BOOK: Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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