One of the more popular TV shows when I was a kid was Green Acres. Coming on the heels of The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, it was one of those rural comedies in which we laughed at the hijinks of supposedly ‘country’ folks—the twist in Green Acres being that we also got to laugh at a city feller, its central character Oliver Wendell Douglas. Mr. Douglas, as he was invariably known to the cast of goofballs who surrounded him, was a New York attorney whose dream for many years had been to leave the city, buy a farm, and learn to live on the land like they did in days of yore. One of the comedic tropes of the series was Mr. Douglas launching into an impromptu speech about the tradition of the noble American farmer, while patriotic fife and drum music played in the background.
It was pretty funny stuff, especially as the series progressed and we learned how little Mr. Douglas knew about farming. He couldn’t grow anything, he couldn’t keep his tractor running, he didn’t know how to take care of livestock. His elegant, citified wife Lisa was no help either. I have heard that the original concept for the show did not call for the wife to be Hungarian, did not call for her to be foreign-born at all. But when Eva Gabor’s agent got her an audition for the part, the producers immediately understood that she was meant for that role.
I enjoyed the show back then, but thinking about it now in a cultural context, I’m a little confused. This series ran from 1965 to 1971. These were some of the years that saw the migration of many young people from the cities and suburbs to communal farms; when Joni Mitchell, in her song Woodstock–practically the anthem for a generation–sang of getting back to the garden. A man who spoke of leaving the city to learn how to live a simpler, more elemental life on the land could easily have been perceived in these years as a hero, not a buffoon; but Mr. Douglas was just not portrayed that way, and so his desire to live on a farm was made to seem ludicrous.
When I first mentioned to an old friend that I had moved to this 18-acre tract of land out here in a rural area of Jefferson County, he sent an e-mail back in which he compared me to Oliver Douglas. We had a laugh about it. But it also worried me a little, and I still worry from time to time. Do I know what I’m doing? If Oliver Douglas is the archetype for my behavior, must it be perceived as quixotic, foolish?
In my last post I wrote about cutting the grass here, and the fact that I’ll have to get used to those parts of it that will never be cut. On the other hand I was out this afternoon, turning my windrows of mown grass, hoping I’d be able to get a fresh batch of hay into the barn before the rain came. I did; fresh, dry, fragrant hay that I know Chaz and Holly will be munching with delight by this evening.
A few months ago I didn’t even know what a windrow was. Now I am working themwith reasonable confidence. There is a lot to learn, living here, and a lot of mistakes I will still make. But I continue to learn, one thing at a time. You learn what is important in the moment, and you go from there.
I think Mr. Douglas could have learned too, if it hadn’t served the writers’ purposes to keep him in the dark over six seasons about even the rudiments of farm life. Not everyone who moves to the country to fulfill something within themselves is a buffoon. I hope I am not, but time will tell. And in case ANYONE out there has missed the connection—yes, I have a Hungarian wife.