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A Row of Rhubarb

A Row of Rhubarb

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A Row of Rhubarb

371 Seiten
6 Stunden
May 26, 2015


Candace Hennekens, a former human resources manager and author of the book Healing Your Life: Recovery from Domestic Abuse, shares more of her story to find lasting reciprocal love while living a life with meaning and tranquility. At times inspiring, at times heart breaking, Hennekens is open and honest about the human journey which doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to.
The author craves a life with more connection to the earth and meaning. She has already left her job as a human resources manager in order to pursue her dream of writing fulltime. When the man she is in love with decides to become a dairy farmer, she whole-heartedly joins in the venture. They find the find perfect farm, locate a herd of cows, and drive hither and yon to assemble the necessary equipment to grow crops to feed the cows. Then the cows arrive, and Hennekens realizes that farming is more than a change in the way she has been living. It is a whole new way of living. At the same time, she discovers that she loves cows, and living a rural life style makes her happy. Coping with the challenges of raising her children, running her publishing business, and being a dairy farmer, all at the same time, gives Hennekens plenty of lessons about life. As she dares to demand that the relationship with her farming partner give something back to her, the relationship collapses and she finds herself alone on the farm. But far from being the end, this is the real beginning of changing her life into a life that works for her. She finds a new talent as an artist and a new partner which whom to settle down and enjoy life. Hennekens reminds us that in order to get the kind of life that makes us happy, we have to stumble and fall. There is no shame in making mistakes. Hennekens also reminds us that we have to accept the consequences of our decisions and that playing the victim doesn’t work. A Row of Rhubarb includes fourteen tried and true rhubarb recipes, a few poems and photos, and lots of inspiration from honest, heart-filled living.

May 26, 2015

Über den Autor

Candace Hennekens was born in Wisconsin, U.S.A. and always knew she wanted to be a writer. She earned her B.S. degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, U.S.A., and went on to a career in employee communications, public relations, training and development and human resources management. She has continued her writing throughout her life, working with the personal essay, poetry, and fiction genres. She has authored three self-help books for women. Healing Your Life: Recovery from Domestic Abuse has been sold in every state of the United States, and internationally. Twenty-one years later the book continues to help women who have been abused heal and lead happy, satisfying lives. Her second book dealing with career planning is available in print only. Her third self-help book, There's a Rainbow in my Glass of Lemonade, is available in print or as a bonus book to Healing Your Life. Ms. Hennekens' current writing focus is fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Melpomene’s Hand is her first published novel. She lives on a 240 farm with her wonderful husband and their two cats. In addition to writing, Ms. Hennekens is an accomplished painter. She has two stores on the popular etsy site called and In the summer, the old hayloft on the farm has been converted to serve as an art gallery where she shows her work. Her art studio is located in the old milk house. Ms. Hennekens has been in many local and regional art shows and illustrated the 2011 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets' Calendar.


A Row of Rhubarb - Candace Hennekens


Chapter One: The Beginning

I left Harvey and Elvira, the farm couple from whom we’d bought our farm, in what I still thought of as their house, even though we— my partner and I—now owned it, and walked down to the dairy barn carrying my 35 mm. camera. I was going to take pictures of the herd of milk cows that would turn us into dairy farmers. They were in transit and as they descended onto our barn lot, I wanted to be there to capture the moment forever. My partner had just returned from getting up in the middle of the night to drive across state to the seller's farm to witness the loading of the cows.

I was excited. We’d been preparing for months. With the arrival of the cows, our plans would fall into place. The cows were the last piece of the puzzle we needed to fit into this new picture for our life. I could see in my mind’s eye how it would be, but as the cows walked down the ramp of the cattle truck, I took in their massive bodies, their bellows of unhappiness, and the flicking of their tails as they walked with difficulty onto a barn lot unfamiliar to them, and realized just how drastically my life was changed and how wrong my expectations had been. In that moment, the dream bubble burst and I faced reality.

What I had dreamed and yearned for was a life filled with love, companionship, and meaning. My willing agreement to join this venture was based on this hope for those things, not the desire to be a farmer. I did not come from a farm background. What I had going for me as I entered this venture was my willingness to try new things and explore different ways to live. But even so, as I watched our herd of forty-five Brown Swiss cows mill around the barn lot, weighing between1200 pounds and 1500 pounds each, adrenaline flowed and silently I wondered to myself, What have I gotten into? Perhaps, as the old saying goes, my thoughts were that I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I recalled how I’d arrived at this day. It wasn’t cows I was after so much as happily ever after and true love. It felt as if everything done to prepare to farm was meant to be: girl meets boy, falls madly in love, and together they set out to enjoy a simple, happy life in touch with the earth and the universe, walking into the sunset together. It even seemed as if the universe was conspiring to make this dream happen. First, my partner was offered a layoff package from the same company I had left months before. This gave him seed money for his dream. I had resigned from my managerial job at that high-tech company three days after my 44th birthday in order to write fulltime. With a year of living expenses saved, a book selling worldwide, and a plan to write a series of self-help books for women, I set out to be a fulltime writer of books. But then I fell in love, and decided to join into this adventure. Even the farm we bought seemed to come from the universe helping make our dream happen. When we couldn’t find a good farm, the realtor we worked with went out and relisted a farm she thought would be perfect for our needs, and it was. Just before Christmas, 1993, we made an offer on a 240-acre dairy farm in north central Wisconsin. The four-bedroom house built in 1969 was modest but nice. This met my criterion that the farmhouse be decent, not need a lot of work, and be better than the house I was in the process of selling to buy the farm.

The farm set-up consisted of a modernized stanchion-style barn, an old granary, two metal machine sheds, one older, one new, a wire corncrib and a wooden corncrib. We planned to rotationally graze our herd so the fact that the barn was surrounded by 37 acres meant we could graze without crossing either of the two town roads that dissected the rest of our land. Therefore the physical arrangements of the farm met the criteria of our business plan.

Because I’d never seen cows being milked, our realtor arranged a visit to a nearby dairy farm to observe an evening milking a few weeks after our offer was accepted. My partner was a farm boy from Missouri and had done his share of chores so he knew about milking cows, and growing crops. Since our plan was that I would do the milking, it seemed wise that I at least be exposed to an actual milking before I had to do one.

The farm we visited wasn’t far from the farm we were buying. It was an old farm with a two-story wooden farmhouse painted white, and an old barn built on top of a small rise. We drove down a long driveway off the country road to reach the house and barn, and the setting in the January gloom felt dismal. It was evening, and daylight was quickly disappearing. Even in the waning light, I could still see that the barn looked close to falling down. The old weathered wood was turning gray, matching the sky, much of the red barn paint peeled away over time, and there were cracks between the boards. But when we walked up the earthen ramp that led to the barn, and opened the old wooden door and entered the barn itself, it was a different experience completely.

It felt like a world onto itself. There was a cozy feel, with the cows jingling their stanchions as they chomped on hay. They looked contented, scarcely paying us any attention, intent on eating. The pulsating sound of the milking equipment in the background created a beat that seemed to go with the country western music playing from an old radio. It even smelled good, the spicy smell of high quality hay mixing with the smell of cows and fresh winter air.

The cows were well bedded, a thick mattress of clean dry straw beneath each one, and the center aisle between the two rows of stanchions was clean and dusted white with lime. The farm couple appeared to be almost dancing up and down the aisles, washing cows, putting on milkers, taking them off, and then moving further down the row. They both held down fulltime jobs at the local school. They were milking cows to earn enough money to build their dream home. It was not a large herd, maybe twenty cows, all Holsteins, but it would be enough for them to eventually build that house.

As I stood in the aisle and watched them work together to milk the herd, their children playing nearby, I saw that milking was not difficult, and it appeared to even be pleasant and relaxing. I realized that I could easily learn to milk. I said to the woman, who was doing most of the milking while her husband fed the cows, It doesn’t look hard.

She nodded in agreement. Milking isn’t hard, she said. Anyone can milk a cow.

Maybe in her world anyone could milk a cow, but farm life was foreign to me. In my world, no one I knew milked cows. I may have grown up and lived in a dairy state, but that way of life was as foreign to me as being a stockbroker on Wall Street. I simply hadn’t been exposed to dairy farming or animal husbandry. My father had supported us by selling seed corn to farmers for a small family-owned seed company called Jacques Seed Company so I knew something about farming, especially about growing corn, and alfalfa, and applying liquid fertilizer. Even if he hadn’t deliberately exposed us to the nitty-gritty of the seed corn business, I’d picked up some knowledge through osmosis, like children do. We answered the phone and took messages from farmers. We attended customer picnics. We listened to my father relate the events of his day to my mother, who was an English teacher, while we ate dinner. I knew that corn matured at different day lengths, 90 day, 120 days, etc., and my father had certainly showed us enough fields of corn as we drove around in the family station wagon on our Sunday afternoon excursions so that I could differentiate good fields from bad. Our garage was always full of the colorful green and yellow bags of Jacques seed corn. But except for the dairy cows in the 4-H barn at the county fair, I didn’t spend any time in barns, and had only ridden a horse once or twice in my life. Farming was unknown and therefore exotic, at least for me. Many of my friends and acquaintances had fled farm life and gotten a college education so they could work for a company like the one my partner and I left in order to farm. However, I like the unknown and have always been attracted to an agrarian life style because it seemed simpler than city life, and certainly more elemental. Plus, I was a gardener, if that counted for anything, and knew how to grow bountiful crops of vegetables in my home garden.

We made an offer on the farm right before Christmas. It lent an extra edge of excitement to the holiday that year, not knowing if our offer would be accepted, not knowing if we had found the farm we needed to go ahead with our dream. In late January, we secured financing for the purchase based on a business plan that we’d spent most of January writing. It was while we were shopping for financing that I discovered that on average three farmers in Wisconsin were quitting the business everyday. This had made securing financing more difficult than it might have been if dairy farming were more lucrative at that time. Lenders were reluctant to lend, especially to a couple with almost no experience. Finally, the local bank in the home community to our farm agreed to lend us the money. We secured a fifteen-year mortgage for all but forty acres from the bank, and the Harvey and Elvira agreed to hold paper on the forty acres. Then we began locating farm machinery and cows.

Tracking down good, used farm machinery was not easy. We were going to close on the farm in March so my partner had to get going and work fast. We weren't working with a lot of money, and buying new equipment was not possible. Our machinery budget was a paltry $35,000, something I didn’t realize at the time. I thought $35,000 was a lot of money to be spending on farm equipment. How little I knew! It's not unusual to spend that much money on a new car today. We were essentially buying junk that still ran. I also had no idea how much specialized equipment is required to farm. Except for tractors, and hand-operated pieces of equipment, such as shovels, scrapers and rakes, most equipment is designed to serve only one purpose. Many different pieces of equipment are required when you plan to grow crops. Each kind of crop requires a different set of equipment as well. You need different equipment to harvest corn, soybeans and oats or barley. We planned to grow all three.

My partner and I traveled all over the state and into bordering states to locate the best used cheap equipment. It was pleasant to spend so much time together, and lured me into believing that farming was going to be an equally, convivial occupation. We drove through the beautiful winter countryside, talking over our plans, chatting away, and noticing all the farms on our way to our destinations, stopping often for tasty meals or coffee and pie in small cafes and restaurants. We’d make our deal, and drive home triumphant that we had once again scored a bargain.

I was dreaming of living without the ticking of a clock always in the background of my life now that I had walked away from the pressure of my corporate job. I was planning to live in tune with the land, and be in the moment. Each farm we passed seemed to increase my desire to live a more primal, meaningful life.

We put on many miles and then one day discovered we had checked off all the items on our shopping list: a disk, cultivator, Brillion seeder, Gehl chopper, corn planter, haybine, drag, moldboard plow, two forage boxes, blower, and three tractors, an International Harvester 1466, an International Harvester 560, and an old green Oliver. We also agreed to buy the Knight Total Mixed Ration unit already in place in the feed room at the farm. My partner said this was just the bare minimum we needed to get started, but I couldn’t believe there would be anything else we could possibly need. It seemed to me that there was already enough equipment to plant and harvest crops.

Then my partner traded in his Volkswagen sports car for a used 1991 Ford 150 pick-up with 44,000 miles. I cried at the dealer when we signed the papers. We’d taken several carefree road trips in that car, once all the way to New Mexico, and changing it for a truck seemed to signal the end of being happy-go-lucky and footloose and fancy free.

Finding the cows was a different story. We wanted Brown Swiss cows. Our business plan was to graze our cows and sell their milk to a cheese factory. The high fat content of Brown Swiss cow milk made it perfect for cheese making and we would also receive more per hundredweight than if it were intended for milk. At the time, neither of us realized how scarce Brown Swiss cows were. Holsteins make up 97.5% of the state's cows, with the remainder consisting of Jerseys, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn, Swiss and other lesser-known breeds. Shortly after our farming plans had coalesced, we’d attended a Grazing Conference in Wisconsin Dells where we’d learned the basics of grazing dairy cows. They’d recommended the Jersey or Brown Swiss breeds for grazing as opposed to the Holstein breed because they were hardier and took more to feeding on pasture. We ended up working with the Brown Swiss Association's sales organization to locate our herd. We drove across the state to look at the cows before we bought them but we really didn't know much about cows and didn't have any other alternatives. If we didn’t buy them there, there was no other place in the state to buy Brown Swiss dairy cows.

I was unprepared for what we encountered when we visited the farm with the Brown Swiss for sale. It was a fairly large operation for its day, more than one hundred cows, and they were housed in a free-style barn. When we entered the large metal shed, massive brown beasts were milling around in what looked to me like a confused mass in a soup of manure and urine that covered the bottoms of my boots. It wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting. I suppose I imagined a repeat of the idyllic country barn we’d visited in January. The longer we stayed in the barn, the higher the manure and urine rose, until it was up to the ankles of my winter boots. Each Brown Swiss wore an ear tag, and as my partner eyed them, he would ask the owner about a number that interested him. After awhile, it became clear that the owner was not familiar with each cow’s milk production. He made vague statements and we should have realized he didn’t know specifics nor keep good records.

At the point when manure was beginning to creep up past my ankles, I left my partner’s side and retreated to the sidelines to watch. I did not know enough to contribute to the decision making anyway. Noise from the milling cows, whir of barn fans, smell of manure and urine, and the strangeness of the whole experience overwhelmed me. I wasn’t sure my clothes would ever recover from the acrid smell of manure and urine, never mind my boots. Even my skin reeked of the smell of cows and barn

I watched as my partner picked out thirty-three cows. This took far more time than we thought it would take. Our stomachs were grumbling with hunger for it was well past lunchtime. The owner became impatient and offered to pick out a dozen springing heifers. Because of the heifers, the sales price across the board was $1,200 per head. When we returned to our car and began our drive home, I remember thinking, Thank God that’s over.

We closed the farm loan on March 17, 1993. We drove to the bank in town and signed the papers, then walked over to one of the local taverns and ate corned beef and cabbage and drank a beer to celebrate. Then we drove out to the farm to take another look. The house was still occupied by Harvey and Elvira and their son Greg. Harvey and Elvira were moving twenty-five years’ accumulation of possessions to their house in the village while Greg looked for an apartment. The cows weren’t due for a couple more weeks so we said they could live there for a while longer. My home was on the market, but hadn’t sold yet. I wasn’t planning to move to the farm right away anyway. I was going to wait until the school year was over so that my two daughters could finish their school year in that school district before changing to another.

After we closed on the farm, my partner and I began going to the farm to do work on the barn. I didn’t go every single day, but he did. When I went, I was more interested in the house, but Harvey and Elvira were always very much in possession of the house, so while my partner went off to work in the barn, I sometimes visited with them. I suspected they didn’t really know what to make of us, or understand why we wanted to farm, but they were convivial people and kept their opinion of us to themselves. Harvey seemed very German to me, even speaking with a bit of an accent, or maybe it was country talk that I interpreted as accent. He was a big, stocky man in his mid-sixties, still capable of hard physical labor, while Elvira was a small woman with curly permed hair and a cheerful demeanor. They loved to talk, not just to me, to anyone. They were selling and giving away various items and when people came to pick them up, Harvey and Elvira would stand outside on the driveway by their cars and talk for hours.

My partner and I would bring the lunch I had packed and sit in the kitchen with Harvey and Elvira while they ate their lunch. They’d crowded in a kitchen table that sat four between the refrigerator and the doorway. It wasn’t a very big room. I couldn’t help but notice that the dining room table, which would have been much more suitable for visiting, was piled high with stuff. They had their hands full just clearing off that table. In the living room, Greg and his girlfriend Teresa had put up a Christmas tree, but since this was March, it looked conspicuously out of place. Elvira complained to me that they’d been eager to put it up, but not so interested in taking it down.

The idea that soon I would be a dairy farmer and responsible for milking cows twice a day still hadn’t sunk in, and with my life not yet changed. I couldn’t visualize any of the changes as being real. It felt more like a lark, like I was playing a game. I was more worried about the farmhouse. I was anxious to get going on turning it into my home. The house was a big reason why we’d selected this farm. We’d looked at a lot of farms, and the first thing I realized was that a good farm is hard to find. If there was enough land to graze cows, the house was unacceptable. If the house was great, there wasn’t enough land. We toured a few farms owned by the Amish. All the electricity and plumbing had been stripped out of the house. When we finally found our farm not far from a village, close to an urban center, with enough land to run a herd of 45 to 60 cows, where the house was decent and appealing, we were relieved. I knew the house needed redecorating and cleaning, but I felt that it had all the qualities that would make for a nice home for my two daughters, ages twelve and seventeen, myself, and my partner. Whenever Harvey and Elvira weren’t looking, I’d take furtive glances around the house, planning how I was going to make it my own.

Even though the house needed elbow grease and a paint job and was filled with stuff, I could see its possibilities. The beautiful red oak floors were a definite selling point. Downstairs the floor was covered with ugly orange shag carpeting that actually had served to protect the finish and keep the oak flooring in great shape. I’d already pulled back a piece of carpeting in a corner to discover this. Upstairs the floors were the same beautiful red oak. It was a square house too. I am partial to square homes, perhaps because I grew up in one. The kitchen was decent with real wood cupboards. Besides a small dining room, living room, and two bedrooms downstairs, there was a main floor bathroom with tub and a small half-bath off the entry room in the back that also served as the laundry room. Having a main floor laundry area was another selling point for me. On my mother’s advice, I’d also paid attention to how far I’d have to haul in groceries from the car. From the attached two-car garage, I’d have to go through an outside enclosed entry, up four steps, through an indoor entry room and I would be in the kitchen. It seemed convenient.

Upstairs there were two bedrooms but no bathroom. The bedrooms were large rooms, however, with funny little angles and odd spaces because of a steep pitched roof. I liked the irregular shapes of these rooms, and immediately picked the upstairs bedroom on the east side of the house as the master bedroom. The attic areas were accessed through the bedrooms and hall. There were three different attic rooms. I’d never had attic space before either, so I liked that. At last I would have space for suitcases, Christmas ornaments, and the detritus of living.

Farmers are notorious for not throwing anything away. Harvey and Elvira were no exception, especially Elvira who was something of a hoarder. The front hall in the house was stacked from floor to ceiling with her thrift sale bargains. There was no way that a person could even go in and out the front door. I remember stacks of flannel shirts still in their original packaging. From the basement to the attic, the house was stuffed. Harvey was constantly taking piles to the burn barrel out back. He would say to Elvira, I’ll take that out back and burn it.

Having them living in the house and being there all the time softened reality a bit. It felt like they still owned the farm and we were just visiting. Eventually, however, we tired of this arrangement, when after several months, they looked as deeply ensconced as when we closed on the farm. We asked the realtor to tell them they had to leave. Their hold up was that their son had not yet found a place to live. Harvey and Elvira felt he was now old enough and now well enough to live on his own. This son, Greg, would have been third generation to farm but he had been injured while pulling a neighbor's tractor out of mud. Instead of using a heavy chain to tow, he used nylon. The rope snapped, flew back towards the tractor, shattered the windshield of the cab, and hit near one of his eyes. Over a period of a year, he was operated on more than thirty times, but continuing health problems plagued him and it became apparent that he could not farm on his own. The decision was made to sell the family farm. Harvey and Elvira had already bought a house in town, and were living there at night. Greg was enrolled at the local technical college studying computers. Harvey was keeping beef cows in the barn to keep it warm in winter. My partner and I entered the picture about this time.

The irony was not lost on us. We were in computers and were leaving to buy a farm while Greg who had been in farming was entering the computer field. To further add to the tragedy, the farmer whose tractor Greg was injured pulling from the mud, later committed suicide.

Harvey and Elvira drove out everyday to the farm to take care of Greg, and run the farm while he was in school. Before they left at dinnertime to go back to their house in town, Elvira would carefully place a can of soup on the counter for his supper, and nestle a pan of cake next to it.

Before the cows came, it didn’t really matter that much that they still were living there. But as the date the cows would arrive crept closer, we told them my partner needed a room to sleep in. They cleared out one of the downstairs bedrooms for him. I cleaned it up, and painted the walls. I hung up blinds. We moved a bed, dresser, and chair. My partner was happy with that arrangement. Then the cows came and March turned to April. I decided we needed to begin our own move. I’d come out for entire weekends several times, and having only one bedroom for my partner to sleep was not enough. When I came, I wanted the ability to move about the house freely. I didn’t like sharing the bathroom with Greg either. Finally, after Harvey and Elvira ignored our hints, we asked the realtor to tell them they had to move. The next Sunday afternoon, while I napped in the bedroom my partner used, they thundered up and down the steps with their crew of helpers and cleaned the entire house of their remaining possessions. I was so worn out from my weekend of milking both morning and night that I only heard the thump of their steps through my dreams, the sound working itself in the story line. When I awoke, I was surprised to discover that the house was bare and they were gone.

As I surveyed each room, alone for the first time in the house, I realized how much work even a house in decent condition was going to require of me, all on top of daily milking and farm crises. The upstairs rooms looked especially pitiful. One room was painted turquoise. The other was a horrid apple green. I looked out the west bedroom window and noticed that the window well was filled with hundreds of dead flies. I could only sigh, and get ready for another milking. Later Elvira apologized to me. She told me she’d never been able to get up there and clean the flies away. She also didn’t know why there were so many flies. Those darn flies, she said, with real feeling.

That’s okay, I told her, I’ll do it. But I’d already discovered how difficult it was to find time to do even small jobs not connected to farming.

Elvira was a farmwoman and did her share of farm chores while raising four children. She also raised chickens and sold their eggs. Harvey told me all about it. At the end of the day, he said as he finished his story, we still had all them eggs to clean before we were done with our work.

When Harvey and Elvira built their new house next to the old house, then knocked that one down when the new one was finished, Elvira had tried to be fancy, as she liked to say. She didn’t think she was good with color so she’d had a sister-in-law help her pick out paint colors. At some point, they’d painted over the pull-down dining room fixture with a sponge to change the metal into a faux white marble finish. And in the bathroom, she’d hung an elaborate shower curtain scheme that involved curtains draped over the shower curtain, and matching curtains for the window. The main bathroom was actually very small, and the fancy shower curtains made it seem even smaller. It was one of the first things I changed when I took possession.

It was the beginning of our farming adventure, and my partner was flushed with the pleasure of owning a farm, his long-held dream fulfilled. He tackled the job of cleaning and repairing the barn with gusto. The barn had never been empty of animals since it was built. Even after the dairy cattle on the farm were dispersed, Harvey kept the barn full of young beef stock to keep pipes from freezing during winter. When we took possession of the farm, the beef cows were gone now that winter was nearly over. My partner took advantage of the opportunity to scrape the built-up manure from the floors, stanchion hardware, and walkways. The manure was like concrete. He rented a pressure washer to loosen the debris, and then scraped by hand. The process was time-consuming and laborious. It also created a minor flood in the barn because of all the hot water poured onto the floors to loosen the manure layer.

We soon learned that water does not run uphill, which was the direction the barn cleaner chain on the barn cleaner took when it carried its load to the pump located at one end of the barn. The manure was pumped from a small pit

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