13 December 2009

Quakers in the Country: The Wife

Proverbs 31:10-12 Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
Living in the country and trying to make ends meet and keep things from breaking presents a lot of challenges to people, and one of the things that I recommend to any potential Husband who is contemplating a life spent on dirt roads far away from town is to work out a deal with a Wife. Not just any Wife, because not just any Wife will do. There are very specific and very difficult aspects of this sort of lifestyle, and yoking to just any Wife that comes along and expresses a desire to live forever with an outdoor toilet is likely to result in unforeseen incompatibilities. I have discovered a formula for solving this problem, and while I admit that it may not be applicable to every Husband’s situation, it certainly provides some general guidelines, which I am happy to share with you now.
Wives, please sheath your various implements of destruction. I have no experience with locker room conversations about Wives and their characteristics in that venue, and mean no disrespect to those of us with those extra X chromosomes. I merely have some basic knowledge to impart to potential Husbands, and if it doesn’t apply to you, please don’t hold it against me.
First and foremost, Husbands, find yourself a Wife with whom you are functionally compatible. By this I don’t mean that you must share political views or possess identical tastes in foreign food. But if you plan on moving towards a subsistence household economy with an agricultural substructure, don’t bother to begin negotiations with a potential Wife who hates soil and dislikes plants and animals. Find yourself someone who likes to grow flowers, especially one who likes the idea of growing plants and then eating them. Plants can be pretty, but a Wife who knows that good-looking plants can be eaten as well is what you’re looking for.
Functional compatibility takes on other aspects, too. Living in the country requires an intimate relationship with dirt and mud, so investigate the preferences of any potential Wife in these areas. In my own case, I discovered an instant combination of an agricultural predisposition and a high tolerance for mud when I noticed sunflowers sprouting from discarded seeds in the impressive layers of mud packed into the carpet of one potential Wife’s otherwise shiny red pickup truck. “Hmmmm,” I said. “This one bears further looking into.”
Of course, a pickup truck is itself a good sign. It doesn’t need to be impressive, or large, or have extra levers in the floorboards. But if your potential Wife drives a pickup truck, rather than, say, a Vespa, then you’re on the right track. Nothing wrong with Vespas, for people who live in town, but a pickup truck is more suited to carrying goat feed, pieces of pipe, very large dogs, and other country necessities. Your potential Wife doesn’t need to actually be doing these things when you spot her—owning the pickup is a pre-adaptation to country life that is already a useful indicator of compatibility.
Another thing to look for in an appropriate Wife is a willingness to give up large portions of financial security for an almost inevitable helping of uncertainty and a lowered level of income. Country life is like that. You ain’t going to be rich, and it’s important to look for a potential Wife who is tolerant of a similar downsizing of financial goals. It helps to locate one who isn’t really interested in expensive possessions, foreign vacations, or decent clothing and shelter. Instead, find one who is willing to wear rags, live in houses condemned by the county, and will spend her time looking over potential farm property in places like Oregon, for instance, or Ohio. If she can do this all alone without you being there, so much the better.
Resourcefulness is a desirable characteristic that varies among potential Wives, and a high degree of resourcefulness will pay you many times over when things break and you can’t be there to make them right again. I am fortunate enough to have a Wife who is willing to tackle any repair job she encounters, armed with nothing more impressive than packing tape and pushpins. She can patch sheetrock, install room partitions, seal blown out windows, and perform many other tasks using only these mundane miracle tools. I once proudly told her that the Titanic would never have sunk if she had been on board with a large enough supply of packing tape and pushpins, but I’m afraid she didn’t see it as a compliment.
Resourcefulness is important in larger ways, too. On occasion, our ancient fire-breathing coal furnace under the house will burn out its shroud and begin to puff coal smoke into the house through the vents. When the temperature is only a few degrees above zero Fahrenheit, this presents a dilemma. Should we freeze to death, or perish from asphyxiation first? A Wife with a sufficient amount of resourcefulness will ascertain that a chimney flue can be satisfactorily repaired with aluminum foil and wads of fiberglass batting from the auto parts store. A few pushpins are helpful, too.
A hard-headed sense of financial priorities is something that makes a certain type of Wife extremely valuable in hard times. When money is tight, a financially-competent Wife will know that it is more important to pay the electric bill than the garbage bill. Of course, it would help to tell the garbage people to come and get their dumpster rather than just letting the bills stack up, but you can’t expect everything. An understanding of financial priorities when raising five children alone is important too. When faced with purchasing groceries or making sure that the kids have the supplies for their upcoming Christmas parties at public school, a financially-competent Wife will realize that while an eight-year-old will not long remember eating fried dough for a week, she will remember the trauma of being unprepared for her class party for the rest of her life. Besides, fried dough is actually not too bad. In John Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Ma Joad’s family learns to eat fried dough in California’s agricultural Central Valley. And so did I, in the company of a Wife who knew her business.
A lack of squeamishness is very important to look for. Of course, giving birth at home to five children under conditions reminiscent of the motion picture How the West Was Won would tend to erase squeamishness in most people, but it still helps to have as little as possible going in. Having a high squeamishness threshold is helpful to a Wife who needs to regularly empty the bathroom bucket that a house with five small children and no indoor plumbing will find essential. And occasionally lifting dead 120-pound Rottweilers out of the van and burying them is a task that many lesser Wives might quail at. Living with a sink full of dirty, smelly dishes that must sit for a week because the well has gone dry again requires a tolerance for grossness as well, as does the accompanying infrequency of taking a bath. And of course, cats, dogs, and children seem to collect portions of eviscerated wildlife that squeeze softly under your bare feet when you step outside the kitchen porch in the pre-dawn. (What is this, now, another short-tailed shrew or just a length of deer intestine? Do I want to turn on the light or just hope the dogs eat it before I find out what it is?)
But aside from skills such as these, the kind of Wife you should be looking for is one who has a sense of proportion, coupled with humor, because if you can’t laugh at the tragedies and misadventures of living in the country, you won’t last long out here, no matter how competent you are in other ways . I have been particularly blessed with a Wife who can see the humor in many of my beliefs and activities, and who doesn’t hesitate to assist me by frequently pointing out the amusing stupidity of one or another of my actions, and always offers useful corrections for me to undertake. This is of immense value, of course, and I pay strict attention to every detail and invariably take her advice.
There are also apparently minor characteristics that seem to take on added importance during various encounters with fate and fortune in a country-based lifestyle. I heartily recommend seeking out a potential Wife from among the very small but very significant pool of blonde left-handed belly dancers with degrees in English Literature, preferably no more than five feet two inches tall. Of course, your own situation may be different, but these characteristics seem to provide a foundation for making a good Wife that is hard to further identify, even though it seems to be important. The five-foot-two stature cannot be overrated, because there is no better technique for deflecting a devastating point in debate than to approach the Wife closely so that the top of her head is located directly beneath your chin, and then to ask, “Did someone say something?” as you look blankly around the kitchen.
Finally, a common interest in spiritual matters is a key to life-long compatibility and a functionally successful relationship. Such a Wife will not only provide great value to a household economy, but will also perceive strategic avenues in making a relationship with God a matter of growth and improvement, rather than stasis and stagnation. This common focus also manages to bridge over the low points and inevitable compatibility crises that any marriage to a temperamental, hot-headed, and immensely stubborn Wife will occasionally present, especially when the money and food is gone and the coal pile is scraped down to the underlying snow. In the final analysis, this is probably the most important aspect of the relationship to consider, once you establish that you both speak the same language.
Then again, in my own relationship with my own Wife, I realize that we really don’t speak the same language, at least not always, and sometimes not very often. Yet it seems to work anyway, so perhaps that isn’t as important as I had thought.
So, Husbands, I hope some of these pointers will prove useful to you in your seeking after a compatible and complementary Wife, and I wish you good fortune in the search. I’m not looking anymore, and you can’t have mine, but I will indeed hold my own Wife up as the example that all of you should look to in your own search.
Best wishes and may Providence bless you as it has blessed me.
Proverbs 31:29-31 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.


Peggy Senger Parsons said...

You may not have a toilet, but I am grateful to God that you somehow have the internet. I have grown to love the two (7) of you through your writing.

thank you

kevin roberts said...

Hi Peggy-

Shawna was just talking about you the other day.

We could have a toilet (they're cheap) but without water to run a septic system it would just be a strange-looking chair.

The Internet is problematical where we live, anyway. On a good day, we get about 20 kbps, but if the wind is blowing that drops way down, and if it rains our telephone line has so much static in it that things just get slower still.

This house didn't have any electricity upstairs anyway, but we're making slow progress towards the 20th century. Maybe I should write something about it. We got it cheap because the dead rabbit in the well made most potential buyers run away. But not Shawna!

Shawna said...

Well, sweetheart, I love you. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be married to.

Dead rabbits can come out of wells, but flat land doesn't grow on trees.

Peggy, we have the internet because one evening while I was hauling a bucket of coal ashes out of the basement, I looked up and there was Kevin at the top of the stairs. He had a wild and joyful look in his eyes. He had had an epiphany. "There are people on the web. There are people out there who are looking for God. We need to be there!" And a week later he had set us up. It has been really nice to be able to "talk" with folks, even away out here in the back of beyond.

Kevin is working on a cistern system for me. Once that's in place, we may have enough water for toilets and such. Definitely for washing dishes more often anyway!

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

Your darling bride is most lovely!

Mama Hen said...

What a beautiful tribute to your sweet wife! I came over from Amish America. I am signing up to follow you also. When I have more time I hope to go back and read more of your posts.

Diane Kerchner said...

I am thrilled to find two ex-Californians with such wit, joy, and hardiness! This evangelical Friend salutes you both. Thanks for giving this Californian still hope for a rural future :)

kevin roberts said...

Hey Diane- is your web page broken? I can't access it. My YM used to have a satellite Monthly meeting down in Whittier, close to your neck of the woods.

You can leave it behind in steps. We left San Jose for Hollister, then to Los Banos, then to Dos Palos, then leapt to Ohio, where we stuck.

I discovered sanity here.

Rhonda Jean said...

Hello Kevin. This is my first, but not my last, visit here. I come by way of Ira Wagler's blog.

I love this post. It is a fine and wonderful testament to your wife. I look forward to reading more and getting to know you both.

kevin roberts said...

Rhonda Jean, hello-


You know, I once applied to emigrate to Oz. That week they were looking for legal secretaries and pastry chefs, but they thought I might be okay as a petroleum geologist.

I went to California instead and met up with Shawna. Had I gone to Australia there's no telling how long it would have taken to meet her.

Please come back. Or you can check out my lovely wife herself at


Rhonda Jean said...

Isn't it strange those paths we take, often we don't realise a choice made will be life changing. I took a look at Shawna's blog. Boy, that gal of yours can write. You can too. You're quite a pair. I'll be back again. I'm a sucker for writing that is interesting, open and honest.

Take care, friend.

naturalmom said...

Friend Kevin, this is one of the funniest yet sweetest blog posts I've ever read. I am going to print it out and show my husband, who is lately all interested in moving to the country and getting goats. He'll be glad to know his wife is just the right height, though she will insist on a toilet -- a composting one at the very least. ;o) Blessings to you and glad to make your acquaintance!

Shawna said...

Hi naturalmom....

We actually do have a basic composting toilet system. It's a bucket with sawdust that gets carried out and dumped onto a compost heap regularly. The outhouse is good enough during nice weather, but I am not a fan of it during the winter!

Check out a book called "Humanure" by Joe Jenkins (http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/humanure.html) for the most basic, most affordable composting system there is.

Good luck finding your Green Acres! There's no better life, though it can be tiring sometimes.

kevin roberts said...

And stressful! Don't let anybody tell you that living with a hot and sometimes short-tempered fireball can't be a challenge.

She tried to belt me this morning just because I wouldn't stop tickling her. But you know, she's really cute when she's angry.