GETTING A SONG LODGED in one's brain can be painfully annoying. Once it's in there, it's in there for good, and you're doomed to unconsciously humming it over and over. And when the tune you can't get out of your head is the theme song for the old television show Green Acres and you find yourself agreeing with lines like "Farm livin' is the life for me," you might actually be in some real trouble.
Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm
by Jeanne Marie Laskas (Bantam, $23.95)
Such is the quandary of Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Fifty Acres and a Poodle. Laskas—a Washington Post Magazine columnist and contributing writer at Esquire, GQ, Allure, and numerous other national publications—found herself mentally and metaphorically stuck on Green Acres' fictional homestead. Laskas reveals early on that she wasn't even a huge fan of the show, which ran from 1963 to 1970; she isn't even "the farm dream type." But as a child growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, she identified with Eddie Albert's character. Even as a little girl, she understood the urge to leave the city and its trappings and start over in the midst of open fields and pastoral views.
Laskas recounts her city life as a very happy one. She writes with the short, punchy humor of an urban zealot. She loves the abandoned steel-mill landscape, the push and pull of urban conveniences, and her little brick house (even during the summer when her air conditioner fails to keep up with the unforgiving heat). She has a cat, a dog, and a well-maintained garden. She carefully conceals her worries about growing older and being alone and has a group of single girlfriends with whom she commiserates. But the one thing that keeps Laskas from feeling fully settled is that damn song stuck in her head. She simply can't stop thinking about living the farm life.
LASKAS DEPICTS HER surroundings with the tone of a well-weathered friend. While often bleak, her directness is always upbeat. When Laskas' boyfriend, Alex, and his poodle (a standard poodle, which she insists is better than one of those "little yappy things") enter the story and the couple begin to scan the Sunday papers for available farms and take drives to the country, her dream begins to seem less far-fetched. However, it's also clear that should it come true, it will be one of those weirdly haphazard, I Love Lucy-slapstick sort of worlds where everything is always slightly unreal.
Despite a few near botches—and despite her halfhearted, continuous refrains, "It's just a song I couldn't get out of my head" and "We have no intention of buying a farm at all"—Laskas, Alex, and their growing gaggle of pets actually find themselves owners of a red barn, a strangely situated home, a quiet pond, a stunning view, and 50 acres of wide-open land. All of a sudden, she can breathe clean air, the dogs run free, and her dream has become her life. And it is unreal.
As anyone who has seen their fantasies come true can attest, sometimes it's far more comfortable to revel in daydreams. Reality brings scary annoyances and authentic problems like failing tractor parts, gun-toting neighbors, stubbornly stupid sheep, and acres of thorny, bothersome bushes called "multiflora."
The meat of Laskas' memoir lies in her struggle to adjust to her new life. All life changes can be bittersweet; striving to make one's own dream come true takes guts, courage, and faith. Too often the vision of the outcome doesn't exactly mirror the actual outcome, and when it does, the hard part—the fun, fantasy-filled, dreaming, wanting-what-you-think-you-can't-have part—is done. When your fantasy becomes reality, then what's left to dream about? Laskas finds this, and plenty of other things, out along the way to uprooting her life and building a new one.