I grew up on the heels of my mother and grandpa, especially after my father left Arkansas for a much bigger Texas and a much younger woman and not necessarily in that order.
My summers were spent diggin’ potatoes, shuckin’ corn, snappin’ green beans, shellin’ peas and tending to our variety of livestock animals, which included cows, hogs, goats, chickens, turkeys, and guineas (looks like a combination of a chicken and a turkey). We raised most of our own food, including the meat; and everyone was expected to participate in the raisin’ and the killin’. My job, during my early childhood years, was to sit on the board on top of the five-gallon bucket to keep the headless chickens from running away.
However, things changed in 1985. That summer would be the last garden our property would host, and the remaining animals were sold or killed. My grandmother passed away unexpectedly in September of that year; and my papa remarried the following February. (Yes, that was only five months of “mourning”, but please don’t judge him. He was married to a hateful, bitter woman for 42 years; and he deserved some happiness.) Papa moved to the nearby, small town to live with his new wife; and they planted a garden on her property. My mom and step-dad (the man who I affectionately call Dad) worked all the time and really didn’t have time for a garden. I occupied my summers with reading, writing, and dreaming of leaving my small town.
I graduated high school in 1988 and attended a nearby university. College was expected of me even though I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, but I only attended college for three semesters. I just wasn’t ready for it then, and I was incredibly miserable. Three years later, I was still in my small town, working a low-paying job and dreaming of more. An aunt of a close friend offered me an opportunity to move to Dallas, Texas, to attend a trade school (computer applications); and I jumped at the chance. Within two weeks of talking to her, my car was loaded; and I was on I-30 headed southwest. It was a decision I have never regretted.
I returned to my hometown after a year of school in the Big D. I was offered a decent job in Little Rock making good money for the time, but I knew I still wanted more. In 1994, I started working as a technical writer/editor for one of the largest corporations in Arkansas; and in 1996, I returned to school at the same public university – only taking two classes per semester through my company’s tuition reimbursement program. At that pace, it would take me several years to complete a degree; but I was determined. My major? Writing of course!
After a company-wide layoff from that corporation, I graduated with a BA in Professional and Technical Writing in 2002 – one day after my 32nd birthday. I finished the last 42 hours of my remaining degree plan in 11 months. That fall, I started teaching freshman composition at a public community college. That job prompted my desire for even more education. So in January of 2003, I started pursing a master’s degree; and I graduated two years later. I started teaching writing full-time that year at the same public university I started at in 1988. Talk about full circle…
I have taken some other classes here and there. I started and postponed a PhD in 2009, and I completed a graduate certificate in Conflict Mediation in 2012. I absolutely love school and love learning. However, as I have aged, I have come to realize that learning doesn’t always require a classroom. In fact, I would wager that the education I was allowed to receive in our garden and on our farm as a child was just as valuable as my formal education at a university.
There are days that I long to return to that lifestyle – raisin’ our own food and living off the land. I miss the simplicity that life offered. I now feel caught in the middle of the these two, dynamic worlds. I seem to function easily in either, so I’ve come to understand that both have made me who I am. I wouldn’t be the same woman without the farm or without the formal education. During a luncheon a few years ago , one of my former corporate supervisors referred to me as “Educated Country”. I was initially offended and probably didn’t take it the way she meant it. However, I have grown to love the title and have since embraced it as a pretty accurate description.
This is my commitment to document my country heritage and how my education plays a role. Welcome to Educated Country…