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    BWS Stories - "Get a Job"...Career Choices

    "Get a Job"...Career Choices - Going Home and Building Sanctuary

    Sandra Bennett and her husband live on Thistle Cove Farm ( where Sandra raises and breeds rare American Curly horses, Shetland, Romney and Merino sheep. Sandra is a fiber artist, teacher, writer/photographer, and a practicing Christian. She recently traveled to Russia to teach and lecture on agriculture, cultural heritage, and rural tourism.

    Going Home and Building Sanctuary

    In another life I wore expensive business suits, heels, lugged a briefcase everywhere and was a container sales rep in order to earn my bread and butter. If I didn’t sell anything, I didn’t eat. Needless to say, I sold often and well enough to eat regular meals. I enjoyed sales, especially cold calls which meant I walked into an office unannounced, without an appointment, to sell someone something they didn’t know they needed or wanted. I used sales to improve myself more than to sell a product and have always enjoyed competing against myself. I’ve never enjoyed competing against other folks and it was always a game to see if I could best myself each month.

    At one time I had an eleven state sales territory, an upper east side NYC apartment at my disposal, and a primary residence in Richmond, VA. I loved my job and sold container space to US companies for export to ports in Europe and the Far East. There were always interesting people to meet and places to visit. My company was filled with folks I would never have met in my southern town.

    As good as the job was, it began to wear me down. It seemed I was never in the right place at the right time and all those “interesting people” began to look and sound the same. I was always missing, by just a day or two, important family events or special times with friends. I would wake in a hotel room and it would take a second or two to orient myself. The career began to lose its gilt edge and started becoming “a job”. I finally gave notice after the last six week road trip. I set about building a new life apart from the corporate world.

    My life, like everyone else’s life, has been based upon a series of choices…some good and some bad…that has made me the person I am today. For a long time, I went through life afraid and ignorant of the vast array of choices I had at my command. The choice to leave the corporate world was both frightening and freeing, but to stay would have denied myself the path God, in His wisdom, had chosen for me.

    It’s taken me more than half my life to get back to the farm that Daddy left as soon as he could. He left for the same reasons as many – better jobs and better lives for his family. All my life I’ve wanted to live on a farm and, as a young girl, spent every summer I could on Daddy’s families’ West Virginia farms. My farm chores consisted mainly of giving the lambs their bottle or collecting warm eggs from under cranky hens. My favorite chore was helping Aunt Bonnie milk her Jersey cows. That particular farm job translated into sitting in a row with the barn kittens, waiting for Aunt Bonnie to squirt milk, straight from the cow, into my open mouth. That memory is 40 years old and still one of my favorites! My childhood farm chores probably did little to prepare me for my own farm but they did cement my love for the farm and farm critters. It also helped form my character and helped make me the Boomer woman I am today.

    I’ve passed the half-century mark and my address is now “heaven on earth”. Since 1870, my husband and I are the fourth owners of Thistle Cove Farm and the first to give it a name. After city living and corporate jobs, we bought the remaining thirty acres of a one thousand acre farm and moved to the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia. In a way, buying this farm was coming home, home to the mountains our families had left so many decades before.

    In July, 1995 Dave and I were married on the front lawn of Thistle Cove Farm and immediately began restoration on the house. After the first year, farm fencing became a priority due to the fluffy Angora goats I chose as a birthday gift. Little did I know those goats would put my feet on a path already worn smooth by distant kinfolk.

    A few years after moving to our farm, I found a photograph, circa 1934, of my Dad, Jim Bennett. In it, he’s a seven-year old boy, kneeling on the ground, with his arms wrapped around twin black lambs. He’s surprised when I tell him about the photo; he hasn’t thought about those lambs in years. He tells me stories about his youth and I tell him about a distant cousin who has written a book about Daddy’s mothers’ family. The book cover photo is of Jane Hamrick, mid to late 1800’s, and she’s sitting at her Saxony spinning wheel in her garden. The black taffeta dress is as severe as the expression on her face and I wonder if she was twice a spinster. (A spinster was a spinner and usually an unmarried woman.) Daddy and I wonder at our journeys, at the sameness and the differences and how I’ve come full circle back to the farm. He was glad to leave the cold and hard work and it amuses him that I love it dearly.

    I raise rare breed American Curly horses for companion animals and riding horses. My rare breed Shetland, Romney, and Merino sheep comprise a hand spinner’s flock and all earn their keep by giving me beautiful fleeces every spring. Like Jane, I use the wool to spin yarn and then make useful garments for family and friends. I send some of the annual wool clip to be processed into blankets and yarn to be sold in our farm store. The work of my hands reminds me of the work of other women’s hands. So much of women’s work has gone the way of all flesh and yet, what could be more important than food, shelter, and clothing, and the making of a home and a sanctuary? A dozen hand made quilts hang over my upstairs banister waiting for someone to claim them for an afternoon nap or a cold winter night. While they last, they represent homemade love of the finest sort.

    I fall into bed each night to sleep the sleep of the exhausted. Few people, family or friends, understand my love for tending to the animals, fence mending, shed painting, or making hay while the sun shines…literally. My husband doesn’t understand either. Yet he loves watching me do my farm chores just for the sheer joy. He supports me in all my crazy efforts and loves living here as much as I. I’m like the little kid who gets up at full speed in the morning and falls asleep with my fork in my hand at the supper table.

    Now, most of the farm fencing has been replaced, the house is almost finished, the herb garden thrives, and more chores are planned. I’d like to plant a heritage fruit orchard (the old orchard has reached the end of its years), more shade trees are needed, and some nut trees would be nice.

    I’ve never worked so hard, nor had so much fun. For the first time in my life I understand what it means to be passionate about work and understand it’s a responsibility to live here as well as a blessing. The hardest farm lesson I’ve learned is work is never finished. I just reach a stopping point and then…stop. Work will wait until tomorrow but I must always make room for a little living today. On a farm, life’s lessons are many and varied. The first fifty years of the twentieth century saw people hustling to leave the farm. The second fifty years saw the second generation hustling to find their way home again. I’ve learned that life is hard and difficult no matter where we live. But sometimes, just sometimes, we can make a home and build a sanctuary in a place so beautiful that the hard edges of life are worn even and the crooked path made straight. After all life’s battles, I’ve finally won the war.
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