Divorce. I haven’t experienced it personally, having just celebrated 25 years of marriage to my high school sweetheart, and my parents stayed married until the death of one of them. Same story with my parents-in-law.
Divorce doesn’t affect just one’s immediate family but has a trickle down effect that touches the entire community. Let me give you a recent example. It’s a bit of a journey, but stick with me; we’ll get back to divorce in the end.
A few nights ago my 15-year-old son insisted that his father and I watch a documentary called Food Inc., then went to the refrigerator and told me that afterwards we’d think even closer about what we bought than we already do. “You probably won’t buy this brand of yogurt any more,” he said, holding the Activia in his hand. “You’ll probably want to go to the farmer’s market more.”
He sent the NetFlix link in an email message to me and left us alone. What could have inspired this teenager to watch this, I wondered. I’ll watch it, I told him, but warned him that knowing who the writers and producers of documentaries are often is more important than the actual content. “It could be some total left-wing moon bat shoving their agenda down your throat with the bad meat.” I’ve become cynical these days not taking things at face value but searching for the behind-the-scenes intended message. I guess that happens with experience.
We’re a family with pretty healthy eating habits already, so it wasn’t like starting from scratch here. For over five years I’ve been buying whole grains in 5-pound buckets and milling my own wheat to bake fresh bread, five loaves at a time. We flake our own groats into oatmeal. Yes, really. People can do that. Oatmeal doesn’t have to come in a round box with an old white man’s picture on the cover. I’ve grown a few veggies in a small garden through the years, and we cut out pork from our diet over a year ago. I confess that occasionally ham or sausage finds it way onto our plates though. Our pantry is filled with protein bars and supplements. Bottom line: we are not a “just add water and stir” family.
Yesterday while my son and I were out driving, an image from the documentary came to mind of the cows, and we were close to the local dairy, which I’d been told was the last working dairy farm in the region. We could swing by there and pick up some farm fresh milk—I guess the documentary affected me after all. Yes, we’d buy extra and make homemade ice cream for Memorial Day. Though we used to drive over to the dairy routinely, I’d more recently succumbed to buying the store brand on sale in addition to the soy milk we use daily.
We pulled up to the little brick house that operates as the dairy’s office and store with cases of fresh milk, cream, butter, along with jams, preserves, and even a selection of jewelry and decorative home accessories. On the opposite side of the road is the farm, where the cows stay as well as the milk processing plant.
“Are they open?” I asked, not seeing an illuminated sign that is common in store fronts. We parked and walked up the rickety stairs to the front porch and saw on the door a paper sign that read, “Yes, we’re open, just saving electricity.” I realized then that the lights inside the store were off.
We were greeted by a young woman whom I recognized from previous visits. She was now a mother, holding her five-month-old baby boy. The baby turned to look at me and smiled with his whole body—a gummy grin that spoke volumes.
“This is Clay,” she said. “He’s named after his great-grandfather Clayton.” Clayton and Estelle’s, the name of the market, I recalled. We chatted a few minutes about how precious he was, and then I told her we were there to get some milk.
“We don’t have any milk.”
“What?” We were standing in a dairy store. That’s like saying the ocean is out of water.
“Coolers are broken.”
I looked into the room where the milk is normally stored and saw that the refrigerated coolers were empty and dark. Off, like the lights.
“We should have some next week, right, honey?” she hollered to her husband out of sight in another room in the house. He confirmed.
“Oh dear. What are the cows doing? Sitting over there crossed legged?” I jested.
“We’re not milking the cows any more.”
What? I could barely believe my ears. I’ve never been a farmer, but I know a little about things like this. You can’t just stop milking the cows. What in the world was going on?
“We’re bringing the milk in from a dairy down in Moultrie,” she told me.
Oh, this news was worse than I thought. Why bother? To sell to their local commercial clients? To keep this little market open? Then all the news spilled out like sour milk left in a pail.
“Last year the farm was foreclosed,” she told me. The owners (her in-laws) are getting a divorce.” Then she added some detail about leasing, contracts, and so on. Frankly, I was still stuck on the “We’re not milking the cows anymore” coupled with the “divorce” word. That was it. Another sign of the economy’s effects on a long-standing local family business.
I looked at that baby, still smiling from ear to ear, and felt sad for him. If things continue in this fashion, he may never get to know the legacy to which he was born. A farm? So close to the city? With suburban sprawl’s hand covering much of the geography, a place like this dairy was a pearl in an oyster shell. Just outside of the metropolitan Atlanta area, this section of yesteryear had been salvaged, had stood the test of time, and now it was on its way to becoming a ghost town—a memory for school kids to tell about when they used to go to that farm on field trips or to the corn maze during the fall.
I’ve wound myself back to the divorce word now. It’s not my place to know which came first, the divorce or the financial situation that may have lead to it—since financial problems are at the top of the list of causes for the big D. Regardless of what the cause and whom to blame, the reality is that along with their family the community will suffer as a result. So much for our attempt at some fresh organic milk.
“We hope to start back milking the cows again,” the young mother said. I could feel a keen sense of her longing to keep the family business that she had married into afloat. I really hope they do. My son and I walked out the door. No need to turn off the lights or the open sign. They were already dark.