Friday, June 29, 2012

Farmer's Wife Friday: Searching for the Happiest Life in the World

The farmer's wife this week is from Franklin County, Iowa.

However, for this week and next week, the last two weeks (!) of Farmer's Wife Friday, I am dispensing with a synopsis of the letters. Carla always does such an excellent job of that.

Rather, there will be two guest bloggers. Last year when this series started, I mentioned to each of them that it would be a treat to have their insight for this series. And then the end of the series was here before any of us realized it!

The guest this week is my husband, Mark. Mark spent his first sixteen years living on a farm. He was the middle of five children. His mother worked hard on that farm. So my questions to him were: How do you think your mother would have answered the question posed by the Farmer's Wife periodical? Did she enjoy being a farmer's wife? Would she have wanted farm life for any of her children? So in his own words, here is his answer.

This being the second to the last post for the Farmer's Wife project, I decided to write this post. I firmly believe if it were not for Carla and Cindy holding each other accountable, this project would have never been completed. I am truly impressed and proud of them for this accomplishment.

This journey of letters by the farmers' wives has been really interesting for me. I have read many of the letters and it made me wonder what my Mom would have written.

I was born and raised on a farm in Minnesota for the first 16 years of my life. I was the middle child of five. My sister was the oldest (not really a sister--more like a second mom) then an older brother and two younger brothers. We lost the farm through bankruptcy when I was 16 (sophomore in high school) and moved to Butterfield, Minnesota, population 619. For our family, this really created an interesting situation:  the older two only lived on the farm and then were out on their own and never lived in town; the younger two were in grade school so never really experienced the total effect of the  farm. I was fortunate enough to experience both.

#60 Noon & Light:
Now about my Mom. My Mom was one of the toughest and hardest-working ladies I ever knew: five kids, a husband, cooking three meals a day (breakfast, dinner & supper), lunch for the workers in the morning and a "little lunch" (Minnesotan) in the afternoon.  Every meal was made from scratch: bread, buns, zwieback, bars, cookies, all vegetables fresh from the garden in summer and canned fruits and vegetables for us to eat in winter. Every summer she canned corn, green beans, applesauce, beets, carrots, pickles, in addition to the peaches, pears and apricots we purchased. I can only guess, but her goal was 100 quarts for each of the homegrown staples. All our meat was raised and butchered on the farm, with my uncles and aunts sharing the work with each other. This Included beef, pork, and chickens. Mom did it all with no water heater--only a large built- in cast iron pot (50 gallon) with a wood fire box underneath to heat the water. In addition, she heated water every Monday the same way to do the wash and hang it outside to dry. In the winter I learned what "freeze dried" meant!

#103 Whirlwind
A real treat for us once or twice a year was for Mom to buy a loaf of Wonder Bread. I couldn't believe how white and soft it was, and to this day my favorite sandwich is with plain old white bread. It was the same with Oreo cookies. We got so tired of home cooking that any time there was store-bought food we were in seventh heaven.

Not only did she work hard, she was tough. When my youngest brother was a year old, I was 7. Mom was helping harvest the corn. She was unloading a trailer of ear corn into the elevator hopper. The wagon front was raised so the corn would slide down but it got stuck in the top corner. She climbed in to loosen it but her weight tipped the trailer over, breaking her ankle and trapping her under the trailer until someone came looking for an empty trailer. All I remember  was that she went to the doctor and was soon back home telling all us kids how to do things.

#2 Autumn Tints
When I was 9 or 10, she began to have vertigo attacks that would last for days. She would spend time in the local hospital and later weeks at a time at the University of Minnesota as they tried to figure it out. They never did figure it out and she spent most of her life on very strong epileptic medicine. While she was in the hospital, the church people and friends pitched in with food and help. The minute she was home, it stopped. While hard for her,  this is where I learned to bake and cook. Mom was weak and would sit in the chair and tell me what to make and how to do it. 

When I was 20 and in college, she developed breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy at the University of Minnesota. She was sent home to get things in order and was given 6 weeks to 6 months to live. They gave her very strong radiation treatment for a month before sending her home.

 #40 Friendship Block
At age 80, she passed out and they did a MRI and found a benign brain tumor the size of a grapefruit around her brain stem. She had surgery and they only removed half of the tumor and part of her frontal lobe to relieve pressure. Again, she was given 6 months to live. She lived another 8 years.

With her never-give up attitude, her incredibly strong faith and being just plain tough, she died 36 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and did not die from cancer!

The hardest time for her and me
 was dealing with the farm bankruptcy. My Dad had a non-farming job and was not home much so my Mom and I prepared the farm for a bankruptcy auction. That was easy compared to dealing with bill collectors who had no rules or laws to follow and were ruthless. When they came to the farm, my Mom always called me to be by her side, as they would call my Mom names and accuse her of lying when she said she didn't know anything about the bills. Later on we found out my Dad, the only one who could get the mail, hid the bills and my Mom was not lying to the collectors--she really didn't know about the bills. My experiences with my Mom and the lessons I learned from her have had a profound effect on my life and have shaped the way I have done things.
All the time this was going on my Mom told me I should be a teacher and never farm, or marry a farmer's daughter where I would have to work the farm. I did go to college and was a teacher and coach for five years in Kansas. Those were the years she was the proudest of me. When I told her I was done teaching and moving to California with no job, a wife who was seven months pregnant, with no house and only a few thousand dollars in our pocket, she was so mad at me she really didn't talk to me for several months. A few years later I was able to become a part owner in a new cabinet business and I started to call her every Friday morning and to teach her the business of sales, margins and deals I was working on. I started to realize how smart she really was--she had just never had a chance. Every call ended with her saying “be honorable and never lose your integrity”--words I have tried to follow.
I can tell you that without my farmer's wife Mom I would not be where I am today. She taught me hard work, trustworthiness, to do what you say and say what you do, and to be honorable. She was financially poor all of her life but ultra rich in teaching me the values of life.

Luv ya, Mom, and I miss our Friday morning chats
Thanks, Mark. Your farmer's wife mother raised a fine man who has become an awesome husband (though a bit ornery at times....), father and grandfather.

Don't forget to stop by at Carla's place to see her thoughts on this week's farmer's wife, along with some really cute blocks.

Next week, the final block will be revealed. And we will hear from a present-day farmer's wife. 


05 08
Catherine said... #

This is such a marvellous and inspiring story - thank you for sharing it.

Susan said... #

I have read this wonderful story, enthralled by the strength and love of this woman.. I need to go back and look at this week's blocks! Thank you for sharing it!

Rene' said... #

Very touching post!!! It moved me to tears. Love the blocks as well, especially the colors in the Autumn Tints.

pcquilter said... #

It's good to hear from you Mark. I really enjoyed reading about your mom.

Grandma G said... #

Oh, Mark... you brought tears......

Needled Mom said... #

What a wonderful way to bring the blocks to a close. I can truly relate to Mark's post and I agree that the work ethics learned on a farm will stick with you for the rest of your life. It was a beautiful read.

The blocks are great too!!!!

Anonymous said... #

That was such a beautiful story. Thanks so much Mark for sharing it! Your mother sounds like an amazing person.

Anonymous said... #

Thanks, Mark, for reminding me of my roots in Arkansas. My dad's family were more on the comfortable side of farming in the EARLY years of the 1900s, and my mom's family were sharecroppers, the poorest of farmers (with 14 kids). No one works harder with longer days, than farmers. I grew up here in California hearing meals called breakfast, dinner and supper! I didn't know what "lunch" was until I went to

Katy Cameron said... #

Great insight into the life. An ex-boyfriend of mine (when I lived in Canada) was a farmer's son and he very definitely had no intention of following on in the family business, since money problems on the farm had destroyed his family, with his mother moving to another province, leaving him behind with his dad on the farm for the last 3 years of school. His sisters were already away at college, and he was bitter for all 3 of those years about how that all worked out.

DianeY said... #

What a story! I really enjoyed it a lot more than the book stories! Here's to Mark & his wonderful Mom!

Terriaw said... #

It never ceases to amaze me upon hearing what people go through who live on a farm, no matter what time in history. Must be the hardest lifestyle there is. This is a good lesson on appreciating all the conveniences and advantages I have now. Thanks for sharing, Mark!

Amy Friend said... #

What a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading every bit of it.

Mrs Flying Blind... said... #

Thanks Mark for sharing - your mum sounds like she was a tremendous lady x

Poppyprint said... #

Mark, that was a beautiful post. You made me cry reading of your love and respect for your mom. Thanks for sharing the story of your farm life. I don't know anyone who has lived a life like this, or is living it now. I can't imagine that hard labour and living every day knowing it was your responsibility to feed so many people so many meals. I need to stop complaining - my life is so cushy by comparison.

Love Joy Piece said... #

Mark, thank you for putting your memories into written words. I am happy to say the thing I remember about your Mom or my Aunt Esther, is her need/ability of laughter! Even the last several years, it could be months since I had stopped and she would remember me and she would laugh and talk about the tough times of her life. She will always be a special Aunt!

felicity said... #

Mark, thank you for this. I'm writing my comment with my eyes full of tears.

Diana said... #

Nice blog. Met you on Reflection of YOU.

farmersdotter said... #

Tears from the Farmer's Dotter too! What a great story...I hope to meet you on Tuesday at the Blue Valley guild meeting.

Brenda...the Farmer's Dotter

CitricSugar said... #

What a really beautiful post, Mark! Your mother sounds like a truly amazing woman... Thank you for sharing it. (I welled up a bit.)

OPQuilt said... #

Thanks, Cindy, for putting Mark in the blog. Nix loved reading about his memories and laughed about the Wonder Bread story. My mother grew up on a farm and one day her mother sent her (and her little brother) to the store for some "store-bought" bread, as they had run out of homemade bread. My mother and her brother ate the whole loaf on the way home!

And congrats to Cindy for your finishing of all the Farmer's Wife blocks!

OPQuilt said... #

Nix = I

(darned auto-correct!)

FlourishingPalms said... #

Thanks Mark, for the great stories. You have some wonderful memories to live on. They brought back memories of my own, of my farming grandparents who I spent summers with as a child. Good folks. Congratulations on achieving your goal of making all those blocks, Cindy. Hope you get to take a breather before laying them out to begin sewing together.

Mama Pea said... #

Love block number 2! Now that you're done, maybe I should think about starting mine! Great to hear Mark's "voice!"

Anonymous said... #
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