the short rows

My husband grew up working on his father’s tobacco farm, where the fields of tobacco were planted in curved rows. Incidentally, the rows of tobacco were of varying length, with the longest rows being in the middle of the field, and the shortest rows on the ends of the field. Matt remembers the back-breaking work of hoeing, suckering and pulling tobacco and working his way through a field–when you neared the end, you were ‘in the short rows’.  My in-laws turned to strawberry farming after stopping their tobacco production during the government buy-out of the tobacco industry in the early 2000s. One of the first fields of strawberries that my father-in-law planted in 2000, he planted in curved rows like he did tobacco, now joking that he didn’t know any better at the time.

All of the fields at the main farm are labeled simply by letter – Field ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and so on, but the infamous curved field of berries was always just ‘the curved field’. The curved field also sat atop a hill, so you could only see both ends of the field when you were in the middle of it, and when you stood in the middle looking down the field, it was damn near impossible to tell where the row you were standing in ended. Your eyes crossed and the curved rows messed with your mind as you tried to follow them over and down the hill – as pointless as a nearsighted person trying to read the tiny letters on an eye chart with no glasses. This was especially infuriating on busy Saturdays in strawberry season, when trying to assign you-pick customers a row to pick in. After one insanely busy Saturday in May that I spent working (and cursing) the curved field, I told Matt I’d never come back if they asked me to work that field again, and why in the world did they plant strawberries in a curved field on a hill anyway? The curved field’s reign ended in 2016, when, at the end of the season, the plastic was torn up and re-laid that fall in perfectly straight rows.

The curved field on a busy Saturday in strawberry season.

All of this to say, ‘the short rows’ in our house has become the analogy for the end of a trying season in life; near-accomplishment or completion of something that once felt impossible or like it would never end (like hoeing your way through a tobacco field…just ask Matt). In the last few stressful months of my graduate program when I constantly threatened to drop out, Matt told me every day, “You’re in the short rows.” 39 weeks pregnant? You’re in the short rows. October of every year, after six months of 12-hour days of unpredictability and exhaustion? We’re in the short rows. Thursday evenings when you need the weekend to show it’s face? Short rows. Mile 24 of a marathon? Short rows.

Are you almost finished with college or graduate school? At the end of a week of overtime? Unpacking the last few boxes of a stressful move? You’re in the short rows. Are you a new parent in the first weeks of sleepless nights? Parenting a toddler? Parenting, period? In the midst of separation or divorce? You might be in a stretch of long rows. But there is good news…even if you can’t see them right now, the short rows are there. They’re at the end of the field, at the end of every tough season.

Alas…today is Sunday, April 15…and we are not in the short rows. Just the opposite…the farm is about to start down one of the longest rows in the field — strawberry season. Yesterday was the spring return to the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Roughly six months of harvest (after strawberry season comes produce season), six months of very early Saturday mornings for the guys, six months of few and far between non-farm commitments on Saturday mornings because the Market is priority. Six months of homegrown, wholesome goodness that they work so very hard to produce. Six months of glorious vitamin D overload, long days and short nights, of watching our son learn a respect and appreciation for Mother Nature, a dedicated work ethic, and the daily reminder, literally and figuratively, that you reap what you sow.

So, I am taking a deep breath. Bracing my shoulders for the weight of the busy season and preparing (trying) to embrace the craziness of being in the long rows. We are standing at the end of the field, at the end of a long row, and I can see the short rows in the distance. My eyes and my brain get crossed when I look too hard for them, but I know they’re there. Waiting for us at the end of the season.