City versus country life

Parents raising their children in urban areas often torture themselves over whether it would be better to give up the convenient commute and nice restaurants and relocate to the country, where their children might be healthier and safer. I often wonder the same thing, but then I have flashbacks of my own country upbringing, take a big gulp of the city air, and thank God I am not there.

My aversion to repeating my childhood is not without merit. My parents had what was considered a typical parenting approach for the area in which I grew up, which was to feed the children large amounts of food, give them plenty of chores, and allow them to run amok.

I was raised on a diet of 10,000 calories a day. We had several different types of meat on our plates, as well as vegetables cooked until they turned to puree, and at least three other carbohydrate options. As for chores, our house was run under the military dictatorship of my mother, and a harsh regime was enforced. My sister and I had various chores, failing miserably at all of them, but my parents took the approach that a job half-done was better than none.

However, if my mother was the general, I was her second in command. I would delegate various tasks to my sister, and for this reason we spent many years eating pink potatoes. They were pink because they contained my sister’s blood. She was incapable of peeling potatoes without slicing her hands. The potatoes would then be mashed into a pale pink colour. I guess this is what happens when you send a 5-year-old to do a 7-year-old’s job.

My parents’ outlook was that they had chosen to have me so I must, therefore, know that I was loved, and indeed I was. However, when I think back to feeling safe during my childhood, maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. My father’s various safety infractions ranged from a slight lack of caution to outright neglect. My siblings and I would run freely about the farm, dodging heavy machinery and weaving in and out of cattle to our hearts’ content.

We would take solace that any injury inflicted upon us would be punished. This was demonstrated one Christmas when a turkey attacked my sister. She came back to the house sobbing, blood trickling down her temple. Before anyone could stem the flow, she was frog-marched back up to the barn for a turkey line-up. Of course, my sister was clueless as to the identity of the perpetrator but she wanted her revenge, so she fingered, in her opinion, the meanest looking turkey. The turkey was quickly scooped up by my father and, with one quick move of his hand, became the earliest Christmas turkey. To this day my sister is haunted by her false identification.

We also had the equivalent of Spanish bulls running daily when cattle would escape their pens. Maybe my father was ahead of his time, because he saw no difference between a 250-pound man and 50-pound girls attempting to stop them. He was probably the first equal opportunity employer in town.

Perhaps my father’s finest moment was when he had me walk around the electric parameter fence to check if it was working. After concluding it was, he invited me to touch it with my tongue. Assuming he was playing a joke, I skipped over and placed my tongue on the fence. The electric current surged through me and threw me onto my back. When I expressed disbelief that he would let me be electrocuted, he said not to make such a fuss because the fence was designed only to give cows a “sting,” but it was probably better not to mention it to my mother.

Some might say that the homemade electroconvulsive treatment from my father was a life-shaping moment because it fried some synapse in my brain that controls the ability to be reasonable. I prefer to think that it fired up some dormant ones that would have remained asleep were it not for my parents’ scant regard for safety. Whatever the outcome of these experiences, one thing is certain in my mind: I would rather take my chances in the city than in the country. – Joanne Vlahos


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