Mike Jacobs: Good Friday passes, no potatoes planted
The truth is, I won’t be planting potatoes at all this year. Suezette and I are leaving our place west of Gilby for urban living in Grand Forks.
Last year at this time, Agweek reporter Ann Bailey and I were trading columns about our family traditions of planting potatoes on Good Friday. That didn’t happen this year, of course; there’s a foot of snow on my potato patch – and maybe more on hers. She lives near Larimore, which got more snow than we did at our place west of Gilby, N.D.
“We won’t be planting potatoes until May,” one of my gardener friends said. He’s also a devotee of the “plant potatoes on Good Friday” school.
Last year’s potato crop was a big one, and I set aside plenty of spuds for seed.
But the truth is, I won’t be planting potatoes at all this year. Suezette and I are leaving our place west of Gilby for urban living in Grand Forks.
This is a bittersweet decision, just as the decision to move to the country was bittersweet when we made it 25 years ago. We moved after the Flood of '97, choosing to build a new home rather than rehab the house on Conklin Avenue where we had lived in Grand Forks. We sold it. It’s still standing.
We have lived in this place for almost a quarter century, half of our married life and by far the longest we’ve ever lived in any one place. We will miss it. Especially the sky. The birds, too, of course. The home we’ll move into is very near the Greenway, so there will be habitat for birds. But the sky will be very different. Instead of that “great dome of sky,” there will be patches of sky between houses and tree branches. There will be no distant horizon, but rather a dike line and floodwall.
And the light will be different, too. In 25 years living here plus 18 years growing up on a farm in Mountrail County, where the horizon appears to be even larger and farther away than it is in the Red River Valley, I learned one thing: The light is never the same.
Our decision to move was an abrupt one. At first we imagined buying a small house, or perhaps a condo, and treating it like a lake home, but with the seasons reversed. We’d spend some time – usually in the winter – in town and most of our time in the country.
Circumstances dictate otherwise.
First, we weren’t able to find a suitable place, and so our price point started inching up.
Second, we grew tired of the drive. When we were both working in Grand Forks, our commute was mostly pleasurable, with a sense of anticipation in the morning and as a way to unwind on the way home. In retirement, the drive began to seem like a waste of time, and yet we needed to make the trip because not all of life’s essentials are available in Wheatfield Township.
Third, we aged out of Gilby, our closest town. The community “turned over,” as older residents – many with very deep roots in the area – began to move away to be close to their children and grandchildren. Others, including close friends, passed away.
At the same time younger people arrived in the community, reviving it. The community center on the town’s main street is the best evidence of that. The crowd at the grand opening last year must have been the largest in Gilby in this century. Now there’s a coffee shop, “The Gilby Grind.”
But we don’t quite fit at our age. A new generation has taken charge.
These were nudges.
Then there were the draws.
The big draw is convenience. Like other older people, we’ve been seeing more of the doctors than we used to. My own doctor told me earlier this year, “I’ve been looking for something wrong with you for 30 years and I haven’t found anything.” It’s different with Suezette, who’s had significant medical problems. As I write she’s in transitional care after a hip replacement. There is a great feeling of relief having her in the care of professionals. And gratitude.
But she’s in Grand Forks and I’m alone in the country.
The university is a draw, too. For several years I’ve been involved in a project to create a digital atlas of North Dakota. I’ve enjoyed exploring the state with students. Getting to class had become difficult. There’s that drive again. And, of course, the weather.
The weather was a nudge. My neighbor came down nine times this winter to blow snow out of our driveway, and may have to come again, given Sunday's snow. The previous record was five. Last year he came once.
But I think the biggest nudge was the isolation. The pandemic exacerbated that. We fought it by hosting a couple of wine tastings on our driveway, but throughout the pandemic fewer than a dozen people have come indoors, and two of them delivered a rocking chair.
(That amenity seemed essential at the time, and I directed the delivery men to put the chair in a south window, where I figured I would sit and read. The cat commandeered the chair, however.)
The distance kept us away from family and friends in Grand Forks. There are more opportunities for social interaction in the city. We can go for lunch, for example. Or dinner. Or a movie.
So we bought a house in Grand Forks. It’s a big house. Much of what we’ve collected in our 50 years of married life will fit in the new house. We’ll miss our place in the country.
But it’s time to move on.
Of course, this means our place will be for sale. If you’re interested, I’ll throw in the seed potatoes I saved over winter. You’re pretty much guaranteed a crop, even though you won’t get those spuds in the ground on Good Friday.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.