Suzy Lowry Geno titles her book "Simple Times at Old Field Farm," but the life she leads on that farm sounds far from simple.
The book is at once a tribute to many generations of her family, a history of the land she holds, a memoir of personal loss and faith, a hymn to hard work, an anthem of independence and a textbook on how to live with dirty hands and an open heart.
Geno’s byline is her three names, but since this is not a formal review, I will, with her kind permission, call her Suzy. She also answers to Chicken Lady, Egg Lady and Goat Girl.
Suzy says she is a simple woman trying to lead a simple life. She pursues that goal with zeal and humor and writes about it with skill and grace. Her book is an eloquent testament to old-fashioned ways that still hold the power to nurture body and soul.
When a wooden cheese box that once held her Grandpa Harley Lowry’s "silverware" passed into Suzy’s hands, it contained the deed by which Grandpa had bought cotton land from his father on March 27, 1915. Ninety-nine years later, Old Field Farm, a 15-acre homestead near Oneonta in Blount County, is the beating heart of that ancestral land.
There Suzy tends Muscovy ducks, Angora rabbits, Nubian and pygmy goats and a growing flock of assorted free-range chickens. There are cats and dogs to help and to hinder.
Not one of the creatures on Suzy’s farm winds up in her stewpot. At the end of their productive years, they receive emeritus rank and roam the place in freedom and peace. Until they have earned their retirement, though, all of them must contribute to the farm’s economy: milk, fur, eggs and compost for the garden.
Suzy devotes chapters to the example of honest hard work she drew from her parents and grandparents. But it is in a few pictures of Maud Smith Lowry, the paternal grandmother she never knew, that she sees her likeness and her model. Maud sold eggs, butter and milk from a front room of her house, and she was a writer.
Maud scribbled poetry in the margins of her schoolbooks and gamely wrote to a newspaper columnist, "I am sweet sixteen and haven’t been kissed yet." As a girl she roamed the hills on horseback, and as a farm wife she hitched her own horse and buggy.
Suzy has been called a throwback, a back-to-the-lander and a hippie. She surmises her free-spirited grandma was a hippie of her time. As Maud did, Suzy grows a garden, preserves food for her pantry, heats her house with wood and dries her clothes in the sun.
As heritage and character suit Suzy to live the tough life of a homesteader, education and experience fit her to chronicle that life.
She has a university degree in religion with a concentration in counseling and more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, photographer, editor and freelance writer. For 20 years, she was the Blount County correspondent for The Gadsden Times. Since early 2008, she has written "Simple Times," a monthly column for AFC’s Cooperative Farming News, from which she adapted much of the material for this book.
Suzy was selling extra eggs to friends and neighbors when a regular customer donated an idle refrigerator for her carport so he would not have to ring her bell. That self-serve fridge evolved into Old Field Farm General Store.
There Suzy sells "fresh eggs from happy chickens," her photographs, produce and items she makes, such as aprons and quilts, goat-milk soap and honeysuckle jelly. A piano and an electric keyboard stand in the corner where she gives music lessons between her barnyard chores.
The most touching parts of the book show Suzy running her little farm on grit and faith during the years she was caring for her seriously ill husband Roy. She would feed animals by flashlight, drive to Birmingham, comfort her beloved through a heart surgery, blood transfusion or cancer treatment, and then return to tuck in her animals, again by flashlight.
Roy Geno died at home in August 2012. On the cover of Suzy’s book is a snapshot of Roy in overalls at age 6, barefooted and straw-hatted, standing in a cotton patch.
"Simple Times at Old Field Farm" (Fifth Estate, 2013) is available from Amazon and Old Field Farm General Store. Directions and ordering information are on the website www.suzysfarm.com.