ELAINE J. LABERGE
Returning to the Barnyard
VICTORIA, BC | FEBRUARY 2018
How different my story could have been told if I had not entered the world into poverty; I was raised in a community that storied me by my family’s poverty; I was storied by my mother’s supposed failings and weaknesses because we lived in abject poverty. The mysterious disappearance of my father was not questioned. I came to learn the cover story that was foisted upon us: he had no choice other than to leave because…?
This experience also shapes my higher education experiences. As I wonder about feelings of aloneness and isolation on the higher educational landscape, I go back in time and realize that the rejection of people on rural community and education landscapes, and how they storied me, has far reaching implications. The public ritualization of giving money in church was very different from the ritual of these same community members dumping bags of castoff clothes, jammed into large black garbage bags, onto our decrepit doorstep—when, no one was watching. Castoffs for outcasts.
Being Othered shapes my experiences on education landscapes; I understood this from a very young age. This sits in tension with a soothing experience on the familial landscape:
I am drawn back to a summer day when the heat of the sun blistered my skin and cracked open the parched ground. Flies buzzing around manure piles broke the silence in the barnyard. Eventually, the sound turned into a comforting background din. It reminded me there was life on this hot barren day. The occasional bellow of a cow, in some mysterious far off pasture, was jarring. As their cries faded on the still air, motionlessness returned. I was alone that day in the barnyard. The barn cats must have wisely been lounging in the shade.
My great aunty sat in the house ravenously devouring her romance novels; I was ravenously devouring the stillness. Only the two of us were on the farm this day. I do not know where anyone else was. It was peaceful; it felt safe. My great aunty had two pigs. They had a large enclosure and a house to rest in at night. Their area was normally a wonderful smelly mess of mud and poo. I would watch the pigs blissfully frolic in the muck like I wished I could. Today, however, after days of relentless heat beating down on the ground, large dangerous grooves and cracks had formed. The ground seemed to be frozen in one last sigh. I felt sorry for the pigs. Their pink skin, with only cat like whiskers for protection, was exposed to the sun’s punishing rays.
Their hooves sounded like high heel shoes on jagged cement. They dangerously wobbled on tiptoes as they tried to navigate this scared, unfamiliar landscape. Today, they were not equipped for this terrain. But, they had to lug their heavy bodies to access food and water. Their tummies sat so low to the ground, I feared they might scrape their underbellies against the unkind rock-hard surface. Their snorts sounded laborious as their glistening noises pointlessly pushed at the grey ground looking for bits of discarded food.
To my child’s mind, they were unhappy. I fetched two metal milk buckets from the shed. For the next several hours, from the barnyard water trough, I filled and hauled half-filled buckets of water to the pigs’ pen. Salty sweat obscured my vision as I climbed the greying, splintering, wooden fence to pour the water over the pigs. The water was ice cold; the pigs squealed in delight. I created the most amazing mud pit for them. My raw-boned arms trembled; my shoulders burned. My great aunty did not share our joy; she had just cleaned the pigs’ house. Yet, she was only mildly frustrated. She sighed in exasperation; the pigs sighed in rapture. I made the pigs happy and that made me happy. I long for this day, the warming sensations of an aloneness that was not lonely. In this moment, I felt a deep sense of belonging in my aloneness. I felt no shame in this aloneness. I, too, was as happy as a pig in mud.
Will I ever have this type of soothing experience on the university landscape?
Bibliography Laberge, E. J. (2016, May). The Echoes of Childhood Poverty: Composing lives in higher education (Unpublished thesis (MA)). University of Alberta, Edmonton. Retrieved from https:// echoesofpoverty.com/2017/07/22/echoes-of-poverty-composinglives-in-highereducation-2/