by Carol Ann Sayle
On a recent winter day in the kitchen of the old farm house, I opened wide the oven’s door. The stove was fired up, and with adjoining rooms’ doors closed, the kitchen was tolerably warm. Perched on a stool, I stretched out my legs, placed my cold shoes first on the oven door, then, ever so gingerly, moved each foot into the oven’s interior.
With that treatment, my toes would be warm for about 30 minutes. If I got negligent, however, and went for an hour of warmth, I’d be serving up a one-time lunch treat of “tacos de toes,” to the farm associates (serving size: three toes each, with one reserved for the farm puppy, Little Buddy).
Maybe in another life, we farmers were construction workers or police officers, or any other poor folks who spend half their year in environments either horridly hot or calamitously cold. What we have in common with those professionals is that we all work outdoors, no matter the climatic conditions. Often the weather is either unnoticeable or, at times, a sublimely pleasant backdrop; to gaze across a field of vegetables and flowers, backlit by the rising (or setting) sun on a mild spring or fall day, is to experience a stained-glass moment of great beauty.
Even on a frosty morning, the views are breathtakingly lovely. I relish those days, and I always offer up silent gratitude. But the foot-in-the-oven day was not such a day. It was of the THFW variety—farm shorthand for Too Horrible for Words. All at once, the worst elements of winter weather were in place: freezing cold, sleety rain and wind. The farm associates called and texted: “Do we work today?” The answer, in both Spanish and English, had to be “No.” On the English texts, “No” was amplified by “THFW.” (I couldn’t use that shorthand in Spanish as the phone would correct me—badly.)
Not even farmers can stand such a day, especially with the addition of the wind. Wind brings the “feels-like” chill into whatever gaps there are in the five layers of clothing one wears. It works its way into fabric tears on the knees of worn-out jeans, makes the nose turn red, numbs the fingers and devalues gloves. Inevitably, the gloves get wet, and then, aided by the wind, they produce the utmost torture. The best remedy is to discard the gloves and wash root crops in cold water with bare hands. That water is generally warmer than the air, and in the barn or salad shed, since there is little wind, the frost-abused hands experience a small relief. I guess putting them in the oven would also help—got to be careful though: “tacos de fingers.”
While winter brings the most THFW days, luckily for me, tax work pulls me into the farmhouse and to the computer on the worst days—near the stove, of course. Looking out at the farm associates makes me feel guilty, but surely they don’t want to be trudging through taxes. That's another variety of THFW.
Soon enough, summer brings its own torments, but we can stand those. We have good drinking water delivered by Larry from our Milam County farm, and the farm associates drain bottles of it regularly. Losing electrolytes in our sweat is our greatest worry, so replenishing with minerals is important. (We know we've lost them if we’re jumping out of bed in the middle of the night with leg cramps.) But for me, it could all be worse. Many years ago, I worked in a library for a few seasons. The walls were covered with large fixed windows. I could see the wind in the trees, but to know if it was cold or hot outside, I had to place my hand flat upon the glass and feel the hint barely allowed by the two-pane insulation. Each day at my hour of liberation, I left behind the dust of old books and the pollution of fluorescent lights and, like a child running down the school steps, I exhilarated in the feeling of the outdoor climate, hot or cold. Given the alternative of incarceration in a sealed workplace, I’ll take the farm life, and I’ll admit that on those THFW winter days, with the frigid wind coming in though the farmhouse walls, doors and leaky windows, this old kitchen oven is just TWFW (Too Wonderful for Words).
Boggy Creek Farm market days are now Wednesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.