The Austin’s of Two Pond Farm host visitors from the 2013 Senior Managers’ Course on May 19.
“You have a good life here?” asked the woman, her eyebrows disappearing beneath thick bangs.
“Well … ” I said, tentatively, “neither of us has a good job anymore … we don’t … we can’t … ”
I was going to say, “We can’t afford to eat out or put in a new septic system or finish the home renovations we began … ”
The woman was visiting from Vietnam as part of an international group taking the Senior Managers’ Course in Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and Mine Action at James Madison University. Last Sunday afternoon, the husband and I hosted visitors at our farm.
Suddenly, I realized I was likely not speaking to a middle-class American. I was not speaking to a woman who could shop ’til she dropped anytime she pleased. I was not speaking to a person who could blow $400 on flowers for the yard.
What did she mean by “good life”? I wondered what her life was like in Vietnam. She lived in a city, but she and her husband hoped to one day live in a rural area. Maybe when they retire, she said.
She loved my house, my yard, my neighborhood. She kept dashing around taking pictures of everything.
I must admit, this year, my yard looks nice. We got some free mulch, so I was able to apply it liberally around the trees. I got an early start buying flowers. Geraniums and lavender border the front sidewalk, multi-colored impatiens fill the box that runs along the side of the house, and petunias and zinnias fill window boxes and pots.
She really liked the clematis with its huge purple blooms. The woman asked someone to take a picture of her in the clematis. She walked right into the flowerbed, stood next to the trellis and held a flower to her cheek.
A good life? My first reaction to her question was to tell her that we don’t have much income right now. We don’t have a lot of the things others have.
I compare myself to friends and neighbors, their Facebook photos of vacations and elegant restaurant meals, to the glossy sales flyers that stream into the house covered with clothing, electronics, appliances, furniture and other products I cannot afford.
As I spoke with this woman, men and women from Ecuador, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Somalia, Senegal, Serbia and Albania were playing soccer in my field or jamming in the husband’s music studio or excitedly talking about coming back for our music festival June 1.
I looked into her face, framed by the green woods, the flowers, the house and vegetable gardens. Seeing it all through her eyes, my concerns felt so shallow.