Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Farm Behind the Curtain

My grandparents on my mother's side were both farmers in their early lives. My grandfather, Steven Rosera, spent his young adult years riding the rails from his home in Lima, Wisconsin, to the western states--Oregon, Idaho, Washington--working as a migrant laborer in the apple orchards. He probably worked on other kinds of farms as well before settling down in Portland, OR with unrealized dreams of being a musician (he played several instruments--my grandmother met him while he played trumpet in a dance hall) and a steady job as an electrician. He liked to fish, he took his kids to the zoo and to musical events in the park, and there was a fig tree in their yard. He was a free spirit eventually caught and tamed by convention. But his words passed along from my mother were: "don't let anyone do your thinking for you," and "don't let the bastards get you down."
I don't know much about his days as a farm laborer, but I imagine that he loved every part of it, as I do. He probably loved the traveling too, and the sense of freedom and independence he had in not being tied into an office job. If he had a probl
em with any situation or authority, he could just move on. He seems, in his photos, to be a man who preferred to be outside in the sunshine working with his hands. From this perspective, the latter part of his life seemed to be such a compromise--the house and family, the steady desk job. My grandmother made him stop playing his music, because it might wake the baby.
If he were still alive, he would be so proud of my sister's musical success. In a sense, it is the fulfillment of a repressed family project or it coincidence that a talent denied and unfulfilled in one generation should manifest itself in a later one? My mother believes that each of us ends up doing, in some fashion, our family's
work. She is able to see, from her perspective, the qualities in her parents that were transmitted--it seems--to her children. My ultimate vision has always been of a farm. Is that my own idea, or simply the unconscious stirrings of a deep family trait manifesting in my own orientation to life and the world?
My grandmother, Magdalena Merck (later, Madeline Rosera), was the youngest daughter of a German farmer who emigrated to Russia with a wave of other Germans attracted there by Alexander I to populate areas acquired from the Mongols along the Volga River, and from the Turks in the Black Sea region. As the story goes, my great grandfather, Joseph John Merk, after serving 4 years in the czar's army and with the approaching Russian revolution, decided that he did not want his seven sons to enter into military service. He decided to move his entire family to Brazil, and then to Argentina to work on banana plantations before emigrating finally to North Dakota.
My grandmother was just a baby during the South American years, and grew up, mostly, as a North Dakota farm girl, until moving to Portland as a young woman and taking work in a hospital laundry and as a seamstress in a casket factory.
The farm life is the essence of my family's past, and for me it manifests itself just as the sensations in a long-lost appendage. The Farm has been invisibly there, the ghost of my family's struggle, as the fuel and the toil that resulted, several generations later, in the privilege, the comfort, the education and the opportunities that I enjoy.

The Farm is the man behind the curtain to my Emerald City life.

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