The magic slate: A farm fairytale

There once was a young woman named Isabelle who lived on a farm in rural Wisconsin.

Her life was a lot like those of all the other young people who lived on farms in rural Wisconsin: her day began before even the day began its day, when the sky was a dark gray blanket that somehow kept everything cold instead of warm. By the light of her flashlight, she would walk to the barn and milk the family’s three cows. After she was done and had carried the sloshy, creamy harvest into the processing room, she brought feed out for the pigs, helped her father fix the fence post that kept loosening itself from its hole, shoveled manure into the compost pile, and held a flashlight while her brother fixed the carburetor on the tractor. At 7:30 AM she would go inside her house for a quick bowl of granola, make her lunch for the day, and get a ride to school in her brother’s truck. At school, she went first to English, then history, lunch, math, biology (her favorite) and finally, gym class. After school, she would practice  basketball for three hours in a small gym with rickety floorboards. When that was done, she would ride home with her brother, where she would do her homework (and check it twice, as her mother always told her to do), feed the pigs again, shovel manure again, go inside and shower, set her alarm, and go to bed.

Isabelle’s life was just like Jackson’s in her math class, or Rebecca’s on her basketball team, or just about any other farm kid’s life. But sometimes, Isabelle wondered if any of them wanted to leave it behind, like she did.

It’s not that Isabelle didn’t like her home life – certainly not. She loved her family’s farm. She loved how the cows’ heads would perk up every time she walked into the barn early in the morning, how her father’s glasses always fell off while adjusting the fence post, how her hands would smell like oil after helping her brother with the carburetor. But there was a road next to the farm, that Isabelle looked out at every morning. It was one of those two-lane country roads that cut the land in two, and it stretched in a straight line for miles. Past her school, past the nearest town–it kept going and going. It was the only way to leave her farm, and whenever Isabelle looked out at it, she wondered if it had an end. There was always a quiet moment, each day, when she wished she could drop the bucket of milk she carried from the cow barn and just start running until she reached the end; there must be something greater than here, she always thought.

Isabelle’s desire to leave her family farm grew and grew every day until her 15th birthday. On that day, after her chores were done, her parents brought her inside and gave Isabelle her birthday present. It was wrapped in brown packaging paper, tied with twine, and adorned with a bow her mother had made. Isabelle ripped the paper apart and found her present: a magic slate. It was gray and black with a pristine surface that shined under the yellow light of the family living room. Isabelle hugged her parents, raced upstairs to her room, and turned the slate on. The slate came to life and said, “I know you want to leave this place. I can help you; I have all the knowledge in the world available to me, and I can give it to you. I can help you go wherever you want. But if you choose to go, you will never be able to come back to this farm. Do you still want to go?” Isabelle said yes, take me where I want to go.

The magic slate showed Isabelle countries she had heard of, but never seen—India and South Africa, Chile and Sweden. She read stories about discoveries in mathematics, computers, biology and medicine. The slate played for her videos of doctors saving people’s lives–of mothers and fathers crying as they thanked their surgeons for giving them hope when there had been no hope left. Isabelle decided that that was how she would leave the farm: she would become a doctor–doctors didn’t have time to be on farms. Years passed, and the slate helped her pass her biology tests, write her college essays, and get accepted to a faraway place called the University of Michigan.

On the day she was to travel to the University of Michigan, Isabelle was filled with nothing but excitement. Her father helped her pack all her belongings into his truck and drove her to the airport. As Isabelle turned around in her seat and looked at the farm one last time, she saw her mother and brother waving goodbye. She looked to her left and saw her father, who kept his eyes on the road as he told her how proud of her he was, of how much better her life will be now.

It was in that moment that Isabelle realized that what the slate had told her years ago had finally come true: she would never be able to return to the farm again. It was true that she would come home for breaks, and talk to her parents once a week via the Skype account she had set up for them, and think about this place over and over again. But she was finally travelling down the road next to her family’s farm, and no matter how many times she came back, she would always be going forward, farther and farther from this place.

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