Friday, September 30, 2011

BACK ON THE FARM; part 6; By A Farm Woman Who Went Back; 1930

The other day, looking out of my upstairs window, I saw my second son and his friend over by the shop, both working most diligently. So intent were they upon their work that they jumped when I asked, "What now, boys?" and held out the gingerbread.

That gingerbread got scant attention for a few moments, as the boys eagerly told me that they were doing; making an "A" coop to be ready for a new hatching of chickens. They explained every inch of that coop to me, their eyes agleam as if they were telling me of the most exciting movie.

"But I thought you had gone to a scout meeting," I said.

"We did. But we hurried home--"

Hurried home from scout meeting to work on a chicken coop! When I left them they went back to saw and hammer, letting the dog gobble up their gingerbread. (It was good bread, too.) But I carried a thrill in my heart. Don't you see? Just the thing I wanted! Making play of their work, using their surplus energy constructively.

On the way to the house I saw my oldest son,--or could he be mine, this brawny blond, as tall as I--astride a load of dirt, driving a lovely team. In undershirt, he wore a most disreputable looking hat, and there were big patches on his trousers. But the gleam in his face as he managed those horses put another thrill in my heart, and when he saw me he let out a wild whoop and flung his hat into the air. Just moving a pile of dirt from one place to another, but don't you see? More than our cows and our pigs we were growing manhood.

I paused on the porch before going in. Far across the pond, on the opposite hillside, I saw my husband, running the tractor. Behind it were fastened the disk and the harrow. Over and over the plowing he went, changing, as he went, the color of the ground behind him--as when one rubs for hand over velvet--from a dry brown to a wet darkness; circling the green oasis that is the bottomless well, trying to free the land of what, in Iowa, we call quack grass.

"See the man working," one might have exclaimed. I, smiling in my heart, thought, "See the man playing." For I knew he felt exactly as my children felt on Christmas morning as they went round and round the dining room table and under it, pulling a train of "choo-choo" cars by a string, with the added joy of accomplishment.

Sitting behind him on the harrow I knew were our youngest son and daughter. They were helping, too, holding the harrow teeth in the ground with their weight--but, my! That fun they were having!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BACK ON THE FARM; part 5; By A Farm Woman Who Went Back; 1930

We never dreamed of Massachusetts. Yet here we are, I on my mountain top--one that is broad enough, however, that our cows are in no danger of being part of a landslide--and he, rebuilding a run down farm. Not his own, but he's planning buildings, studying fertilizers, going cautiously, challenging both brawn and wits, that these New England hills give back their best to us.

It seems like something I've always been waiting for, this country. From the moment I wound up the mountain to my home, the far awayness of everything, the sleepiness, made me wonder if this might not have been the original habitat of Old Rip, instead of the Catskills. If these New Englanders could go to Iowa, they might return and see their land with new eyes. Not that Iowa is not beautiful, with her broad black acres criss-crossed with baby corn as pie crust used to stripe my mother's cranberry pies; with young oats covering the earth like a velvet green carpet.

Yet the broad stern acres seem to challenge one. Here the land--not the people, for no people could be kindlier than Iowans--seem friendlier. Beauty is so riotous. It lures one away from work. It seems to say, "Relax, we will take care of you--"

Still, how a living can be wrung from these rocks I have yet to learn. As I coast down the mountain these homes that crowd close to the pavement mystify me. I want to go inside, know the people. In Iowa I did not feel so about the homes I passed. There, I knew the spirit. Here I have yet to learn it.

Skeptics may wonder if the realization of my dream equals the dream itself. I only repeat:  Life is one thrill after another. My youngest son leaping down the garden path, arms and legs at all angles, as he goes each early morning, to feed his baby chicks; my husband and sons surveying in the pasture, or the sound of their voices coming to my opened window  as they work in the garden below me; the whole family gathered around "Dad" by the stove as he tries to feed warm milk, with a spoon, to a chilled baby pig, each child jealously eager to do his bit, hold a spoon, a cup--! Farming is such a family affair, and as such, it is the source of my thrills.

Monday, September 19, 2011

BACK ON THE FARM; part 4; By A Farm Woman Who Went Back; 1930

We began talking--if we'd ever stopped it--of getting back on a farm. He hunted for farms that were for rent. Once he took me to see "a good opportunity." It meant our oldest boy driving twenty miles to high school every day, or boarding in town and I was not moving to a farm to leave the boys behind me. I wanted them where they could be under the wing of real fathership. I vetoed that.

Nor was he sure that he wanted to make the break. Were he alone he would have been carried back to a farm as surely as drift wood is carried to shore. But he hated to plunge us into uncertainty. Farm conditions--well, you've heard of them. And we did have an income--which might as well have been called an outgo.

As for myself, I felt this way:  Were I set down in the middle of a great city with him, where he must earn his living with his head, I fear our living would be of the meagerest. Were we shipwrecked on a desert island it would not be long, I am sure, until we were living in ease, and such luxury as the island afforded, so great is his resourcefulness when put up against difficulties of the soil.

Yet we let that spring pass, and the summer--

But in the fall--he'd been secretary for our county fair for many years--when I saw how that fair gripped him! He worked with farm people again, grappled with farm problems. Overnight he became different. He worked sixteen hours of every day, or more, without in the least wearying. His elasticity returned. And happy!

"That settles it," I insisted, watching him "cease to live" after the fair. "Next spring we go on a farm. We've got to manage it."

He wrote letters while I prayed that some way would be found for him to do the work he loved to do. Which did the work? Both, perhaps, for God helps them that help themselves.

It has always been a dream of his to rebuild a run down farm, even when we lived on one of Iowa's most modern farms. For a long time he looked away from Iowa's high priced farms to the deserted farms of the East. Grazing beef in New York, or raising hogs in the South. As for me, of all farming countries, Norway or Sweden--where they tie their cows to a tree to keep them from falling out of their pastures--has appealed to me. Farming in the mountains!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BACK ON THE FARM; part 3; By A Farm Woman Who Went Back; 1930

My husband was not happy in town. He took an insurance adjustor—a dandyfied looking personage who winced at the sight of a hog lot—into the country one day to settle a lightning loss.

“Lord!” ejaculated the immaculate one, trying, unsuccessfully, to pick his way through mush to the busy farmer. “If there's one thing I hate about the insurance business it's wading through manure.”

I can imagine my better half as he laughed at that. “That's what I like about my job. If it weren't for this occasional wading through manure I'd quit the insurance business tomorrow.

Inelegant as that remark may be, I like it. It revealed so plainly that his contact with farmers, while he sold insurance, was his only freedom. “That man ought to be back on the farm,” I assured myself for about the millionth time, as he repeated the story.

I have never known so perfect an example of resistlessness as my husband is. He takes each day as it comes and does the very best he can with it. He never gets angry, nor too discouraged to smile. After twenty years of living with him I marvel more and more at his sane, clear way of looking at life.

But he was different in town than he ever had been in the country. His vibrancy seemed to have gone out of him. He had to hound himself to his work. He was always coming home from his business trips into the country with “Saw a dandy farm today a fellow could fix up with a little money.” The only time he seemed his real self was when he fussed with the chickens he insisted on keeping, or worked in the garden.

“Funny,” he'd say, as he packed down the dirt—oh, so tenderly—around the tomato plants as I handed them to him, “how so many fellows want white collar jobs while I've got to work with my hands.”

Never could any one make a vegetable garden a spot of beauty as he did; smooth black ground, long even rows of growing green, all closed in with vines and rose trellises. How our gardens flourished!

The more I thought about it the less I could bear to have this uncommon man, the roots of whose heart went deep into the soil, so what common men were doing—struggling for a mere living—while I grew more and more certain that by doing the thing he loved to do the living would come.