From my bedroom you can hear the trains running and the Metro coming into the station less than a mile away from my house. In the middle of the night, you can sometimes hear drag racing on the interstate. These sounds are normal for me, a suburbanite living 5 miles outside of Washington, D.C.
Being so close to public transportation definitely has its advantages; it’s one of the reasons my parents’ bought our house. I can easily get myself into D.C., take the train up to Penn, and metro to the airport without calling an Uber. Yet sometimes, I find myself wondering if living so near to the city means I’m missing out on some secret part of a more rural life.
My mom’s side of the family is scattered around the Midwest—my mom is one of the few who left the region. In the 1990s, my mom packed up her stuff and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend law school. “You’ll get stuck out there!” my grandmother used to warn her. My mother would laugh and say she’d be able to come back whenever she wanted to.
Long story short, she met my dad in law school, got married, started working at a D.C. law firm, and got stuck. My parents, my siblings, and I live in the same house my parents bought in 2000, three years after they got married. I’ve heard lots of stories about my mom’s life growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis and have visited her hometown plenty, but I feel like I can’t really get the full sense of life there.
My grandparents grew up on farms, my grandfather in Montana and my grandmother in Minnesota. While my grandparents moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis, since farming is the family trade, a large number of second cousins in my family still farm today. Not willing to give up on what had been a crucial part of both their lives, my grandparents converted their backyard into a massive garden.
In my grandparents' garden, I remember the comforting crunch of fallen leaves, breezy fleece weather, the sweet smell of the grass as my sisters and I rolled around in it, and the games of hide–and–seek we played around the raspberry bushes. All around there was lettuce, carrots, berries, herbs, and potatoes—just some of the foods my grandparents grew. Each time I visited my grandparents, picking food from the garden—whether trimming lettuce or just snacking on berries while playing outside—was always a thrilling, “only–in–Minnesota” activity. But my favorite memory in my grandparents' garden was the day we made homemade applesauce.
At seven years old, I always looked forward to the moment when my grandmother announced the day’s activity. Upon hearing it was applesauce, I was eager to help, and followed my grandfather to the garden shed on the side of the house which had an impressive collection of tools, odds and ends, and a reliable red wagon. He put a rainbow rug in the bottom of the wagon (for high class riding) and told me to climb in. He grabbed his apple picker with one hand, the wagon handle in the other, and I held tight as we began our adventure across the backyard.
Upon getting to the base of the tree, I pointed to the apples I wanted while my grandfather taught me to identify the ripe ones. He showed me how to use the apple picker to latch around an apple and then twist it until it came loose. He held the pole gently, allowing me to do the work while still guiding my progress. Before too long, I was sitting in the wagon accompanied by about a dozen apples. Upon returning to the garden shed, my grandfather took out a paper bag and we loaded it up with our treasure.
Back at the house, my grandfather dropped me and the apples off in the kitchen, and my grandmother took over. She helped me clamp the metal apple peeler on the side of the kitchen counter, and then I turned the crank which turned the skewered apple against the blade and watched the peels fall into the trash can. My grandmother expertly cored and chopped the apples decisively.
I got to add sugar and spices and dump the diced apples into a big pot. We started the stove top and my grandmother let me stir and mash out the lumps as the apples grew soft, and the mixture slowly turned into applesauce. The first bowl was mine, my grandmother insisting I eat it immediately, telling me it tasted the best when it was still hot. She sprinkled a little extra cinnamon on top and we sat at the kitchen table while I enjoyed the best applesauce I ever had.
The applesauce was perfection. Though my grandmother had made applesauce a million times before, I like to think that the satisfaction I got helping make it also made it sweeter. Although I was young, I loved getting to see every step of the process from garden to table, something my family doesn’t do very often at home since we don’t have the backyard space for gardening (and to be honest, are not great gardeners ourselves).
When living in Philadelphia during the school year, and in the D.C. area each summer, I often find myself longing for the quiet of the Midwestern farms or my grandparents’ garden. As I think about where I’ll go after graduation this spring, I can’t help but idealize getting a patch of land and starting my own garden.
While Career Services sends me flashy emails promoting consulting, real estate, and academia in New York, D.C., and Philadelphia, I’m tempted to reject it all. I’d rather move somewhere quieter and more rural, somewhere I can curl up with my books, work some random job, and use my free time to live simply, growing what I can and enjoying the world around me.