My Own Little House on the Prairie

The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.

We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.

Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”

“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.

We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie

On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books. 

I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?

Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.

College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. 

Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it. 

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“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees. 

I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own. 

The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.

“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.

We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.

Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).

Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s. 

Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.

Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.

This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.

When a Farmer Has a Son

The first step into our home brings me onto the chocolate and caramel colored floors, which run the length of the house. The rich color attracts dust, something that is in great supply on the farmland that surrounds our home. The floor is smooth under bare feet, but I feel the grooves as I walk over each plank. My feet have become worn, my heels, smooth. I have trudged these floors bringing in groceries from the garage and pacing them with my newborn.

We spent nine months not knowing if we would be bringing home a boy or a girl. I had dreamed of a daughter, not imagining what it would be like to have a son. When the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” my eyes widened and my mouth was empty of words. After the initial shock wore off, I was in total awe of this dark-eyed boy. I never could have imagined the heart-stopping moments that come along with raising a young boy. Or how much I have began wondering what having a boy means for our farming family.

Twice now, we have brought babies into our home. Both times we were filled with excitement and fears, each in different ways. The first time was fear of the unknown, the second, fear of the knowing. We brought our son down the hall to the living room to introduce him to his new home.

When a son is born to a farmer, does a father immediately take a sigh of relief, knowing that his land will be passed onto a future generation? Does a mother draw in a breath, imagining the pressures for this baby who just entered this world?

While my son is still young, he appears to have an interest in farming. A farm boy has the privilege of seeing trucks, riding in tractors, and getting dirty in real life. His toys are replicas of his daddy’s work equipment, and play means driving the combine to the field and hauling cows to the spring pasture. I love seeing my son following his dad, taking two steps at a time to keep up, his little cowboy boots kicking up dust. His eyes lock onto his father, his little face shaded under his baseball cap. But moms of future farmer boys worry over all this fun. During our most recent trip to urgent care, my son pleaded with me several times, “Mom, we have to get back to harvest!” All while the doctor was stitching his finger.

Just like the dust that is constantly surrounding us, so is the work. As I glance out the picture window, I tire at all the work that is to be done. Farming is a family affair: from harvest meals in the field delivered by the farmer’s wife, to the dryer full of grain long after the last stalks of wheat are cut. Work begins when the sun comes up, and the tractors don’t shut down until after the sun is long gone.

I am not sure if we will ever know how much our influence has impacted his passion for farming—are we steering him toward this future? Like the reins on a horse we must be careful to guide, not push. Children, like seeds planted in the fertile soil, bloom and grow up. But I am raising my son to work alongside us. The harvest may be great.

When harvest is in full swing, my days are mostly spent alone with the kids. We feel the long days with my husband not home. After the dishes have been washed from the latest meal brought to the field, I find myself walking down the hallway in the quiet dark. Everyone is asleep. The floor is lined with plastic farm equipment, ready for another day of harvest. Behind this door, sleeps a firstborn son who is living up to the hope that the farm will be passed on to another generation. I pray that we lead him in the way that he wants to go, all while giving him every opportunity to succeed in this humble life if he chooses it.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

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This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

 

 

10 Reasons Farming is More Than You Might Think

In honor of National Farmer’s Day (October 12th), I thought I would share my essay that was published this past spring for National Ag Day (March 20th).
Five years ago I didn’t even know National Ag Week was a thing. Now that I’m a farmer’s wife, Ag Week is every week around here—it’s our livelihood. I think it’s telling to how important Ag is that it was given a whole week, not just one day. March 20th is National Ag Day, but the whole week is considered National Ag Week to recognize those who put food on the table, clothes on your back and much more.
Since it is National Ag Week, I thought this was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far about Agriculture.
  1. Agriculture is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. The lines are blurred between work and family. When you work where you also live, it can be hard to separate yourselves from work. When you can look out your window and see all that needs to be done, it’s hard to take a day off.
  2. The weather dictates many parts of your lives. Before I married a farmer, my idea of checking the weather was looking out the window and seeing if it was raining, sunny, cloudy or snowing. Then I knew what the weather was. My husband is constantly checking the weather and knows what the forecast is for next week. Granted the forecast isn’t 100 percent accurate, but it gives you a good indication of what’s to come. It can also be devastating when the forecast shows a big rainstorm which then passes you by, not giving your crops the much-needed rain. Or the storm can stop right over your farm and pound you with hail, ruining all of your work in just a few minutes.
  3. Farmers and ranchers are intelligent people. There’s more to just planting a crop and hoping for the best. While a lot of farming is out of your control, (see #2) there are a lot of roles a farmer and rancher has: CEO, HR Director, agronomist, accountant, equipment operator and much more. Equipment and technology are always changing, which means a farmer must always be willing to learn and change, too.
  4. A farm and ranch might be the greatest place for kids to grow up. My son gets to ride in tractors on an almost daily basis and loves to go feed the cows with his papa. “Take your child to work” is a daily event and not just once a year. They learn about life and death from an early age and to not take life for granted.
  5. There’s an amazing community to be found in agriculture. Not only have I found an amazing community of women in my area, but also online. I had no idea how many blogs and Facebook pages there were that are dedicated to farming and ranching. I feel like I know a lot of these women, but we’ve never actually met. It makes the world feel a little smaller and more connected.
  6. We spend time together. Sometimes I complain about the long hours my husband is working, but there are days that I get to ride with him in a tractor or that he comes home for lunch. I know these are times I take for granted. If we were in the corporate world I would rarely, if ever, get to just hang out in his office while he was on the clock. And I definitely wouldn’t bring the kids along to climb all over his desk.
  7. Date night gets creative. When your farmer asks you to go with him, offer to drive unless you want to be the gate opener. Even if you feel like you have so much else you should be doing, go with him when you get the chance. Driving around is sometimes the only date you’ll get! Just make sure you wear the right footwear and don’t leave anything cooking on the stove. You’ll likely be gone longer than you plan.
  8. Things aren’t always what they seem. When you are out for a drive and you think your farmer is looking lovingly at you across the pickup, like he just can’t help but stare—he’s most likely looking past you and into the fields to check his crops. I actually learned this while we were dating, but it’s still true to this day.
  9. Your future labors and deliveries will be compared to calving and being a cow. Don’t be offended; your husband is amazed at how strong you are. And most likely he has a pretty strong stomach and you won’t have to worry about him passing out in the delivery room.
  10. Working from sunup to sundown isn’t just a phrase. In the summer months the work day is dictated by the sun. Your farmer will be up before dawn and likely won’t shut down the equipment until the last bit of sunlight leaves the sky. In the peak of summer this will be after 10 o’clock.
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My hope this week is that all consumers will take a few minutes to recognize where their food comes from. And when you’re picturing that farmer or rancher, know that there is likely a whole family working behind the scenes to bring the food to your table. Many of them are working on a second, third or fourth generation farm or ranch. They don’t take what they do for granted; it’s a passion and a calling. And less than two percent of the population are lucky enough to be here.

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

Out of the Mouths of (Farm) Babes

“What’s that sound?” my son asks. I put my hand above my eyes to block the sun on this already too hot May day. Looking toward where the sound is coming from, I don’t see the farm equipment that is in question. I give a quick reply thinking it will suffice, “It’s just a tractor.” My three and a half year old promptly says, “No, it’s not. It’s the wheel loader.” Within a few seconds, the wheel loader drives around the shop into sight. And yes, there is a difference between a wheel loader and a tractor. Just ask my son. I then wondered why he asked me the question, when he already knew the answer.

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Rhett wearing his dad’s jean jacket from when he was a kid.

I truly have learned that “kids say the darndest things.” And Rhett just might top the list. Now that the weather has finally turned to summer, we have been spending more time outside. One day Rhett was trying to get his Gator into the shed and he said, “Mom, where’s my hooker?” I paused for a moment, wondering if he had been watching some TV show that I would not approve of. I started looking around the yard, trying to envision the world from his point of view. I soon saw what I assumed was his hooker. His blue tow strap was lying on the ground, just waiting to be hooked up to his Gator. I smiled and felt a sense of relief that he hadn’t learned a new word that I would hope he would never say at church. Although there is still the risk he will be looking for his hooker at church. We will have to have a conversation that hookers are only for the farm and not at church.

There are some moments in parenting when you immediately feel a rush of pride and feel that you are doing something right. Starting at a fairly young age, Rhett would fold his hands and pray with us before meal times. He started doing it without any prompting, he merely was copying us by folding his hands at his highchair. As he has gotten older, he occasionally recites the prayers along with us. Due to my Lutheran background, I have always felt more comfortable reciting common prayers rather than praying “off the cuff.” This night was no different and we were saying the common table prayer. Rhett interrupted us and said he wanted to do it. I looked over at him in anticipation of what he was going to say. He bowed his head and said, “Come Lord Jesus, thanks for fixing the truck. Amen.” It was clear that he had spent the day at the shop with his dad and indeed they had been working on a truck.  

Rhett is already learning a strong work ethic, which can be a challenge when trying to get him to go to bed. There are many evenings when he doesn’t want to park his farm equipment and just wants to keep “working.” When I tell him it’s time to stop playing and go to bed he firmly tells me, “It’s my job!” I think his dad would agree that when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. For Rhett playing is his job, and it’s hard to convince him it’s time to call it day.

I started journals for each of my kids to write down funny things they say or do, and milestones along the way. I quickly realized that even though I think I’ll remember all the funny sayings, I don’t. Each year on their birthdays I write them a letter in their journal. I anticipate I will give them their journals on their 18th birthdays or when they graduate from high school.

What funny things do your kids do or say? Do you keep a journal for them?