Monday, February 4, 2013

The Struggle of a Midwest Farmer’s Daughter All Grown Up

Seeing the Ram Trucks Super Bowl commercial with Paul Harvey talking about farmers, made me pretty sentimental. I heard that voice—that deep, soothing, slow-talking voice—and it took me back 25 years to a 13-year-old Nebraska farm girl sitting down to lunch with her family (or “dinner” as they call the middle-of-the-day meal in the Midwest). My family was not a church-going family, though I believe we lived the highest values. And, I guess Paul Harvey was kind of our minister, delivering his sermons every day at lunch. And, somehow, remembering this brought up a lot of questions—questions to myself about where I came from and where I have chosen to raise my children.

And, now … the rest of the story.
Some call it the closest thing to Heaven.
My family’s farm was 14 miles from the nearest town, and that town was population 900. Ten of those miles were driven on gravel roads, where sliding into the ditch after a good rain or snow was not uncommon, and where I found myself changing many flat tires. It was another 30 miles beyond that to the nearest movie theatre, which I believe runs only two movies simultaneously. Our nearest neighbor was a mile away. The only trees were planted by the farmers to shield their homes from the treacherous winter winds. There were more cattle in the county than people, and some of them were my best friends. And, everybody waves. Yep, the one-finger wave from the steering wheel. My city slicker husband still can’t get over that one.

While to some, that sounds like the closest thing to Heaven; I could not wait to get out. I knew I was city-bound, though I did not know where. Since then, I have bounced around the country and landed in a mid-sized city in Virginia, with pretty much all the amenities a person could need or want. It is the city my husband and I chose five years ago to raise a family. Now, I question whether we made the right choice. Coming from a small town seems like such a sheltered life, but now it seems that’s just what parents want—to shelter their children from what seems to have become a scary world, at times.

Where I grew up, the kids worked. I mean, really worked. Cleaning your room, taking out the garbage, doing dishes, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, feeding the cattle during a blizzard after school and before you started homework … that was not work. Those were chores. We were the hired hands on our farm. I turned baby bulls into steers. I climbed to the top of grains bin when it was 100 degrees as the auger emptied dusty wheat into them. I tromped down hay in a metal cage to build 20’ haystacks. I tilled the fields in the tractor. One summer, the only way my dad would let me go to volleyball camp is if I agreed to milk the cow once a day for the summer. Damn, I hated it! But, sometimes I think about what little work ethic I will be able to instill into my kids where we live now.

We rarely went to a restaurant of any kind. It’s likely that once every six months is a generous estimate. Now, we have family date night at a restaurant once a week. But, it occurred to me that maybe noisy restaurants aren’t the right place for family date night. It’s hard to hear. We’re always worried about the baby getting restless. I stress over how much food has hit the floor and over tip because of it. How much “quality” family time is that? It gets me out of cooking and doing dishes, but sometimes it’s just more calming to be home. Maybe it would be better for my family if I didn’t have the option.

The only time we would have fast food was on a once a year trip to see my relatives in Wichita, KS, or when our high school bus would stop at the nearest McDonald’s after an away game. I will admit my kids eat fast food an average of once a week. Though, when doing so, I do my best to choose the healthy options—white milk and fruit, no fries. But, that’s never going to be better than what I could cook for them at home. The many chain restaurants stare me down as I drive the kids home after school, knowing my options at home are slim. It’s just too easy. It would probably be better for my family if I didn’t have those choices.

Organized sports during the school year didn’t exist until 5th grade, and that was a few weeks of basketball on Saturdays during the winter. Where I live now, you could overlap activities for 3-year-olds all year long if you wanted. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to make the choice to enroll them or not to.

The only stores I went to with my mom were in our small little town, and the toy selection was … well, it wasn’t. I take my kids to Target on a weekly basis, and all I feel like I do is say “No.” While these conveniences just five minutes from my house are wonderful, sometimes I wish I never had to take my kids anywhere where they would see something they want. The battle is tiring.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have soccer nets, fancy baseball equipment, children’s museums, or parks down the street. We created our own fun with anything we could find around the farm. Old window weights, the gas tank, and a light pole were bases for baseball. Our bat was an old wooden bat I think my dad used as a kid. We got roller skates one year for Christmas, but the only smooth surface was a sidewalk/patio at the front of our house that took about 6.5 seconds to round—and that was if there was no collisions or you didn’t trip over the crack in the sidewalk. We created our own track meet with some hoed up dirt and an old board for a long-jump pit, and some homemade stands to hold a bamboo stick and a pile of hay for the high jump. Sometimes I wonder if my kids will ever want something so much they will invent it themselves.

I despised every one of those things as a child, but look so fondly on them now. I guess it says a lot about my parents that they were able to send five kids out on our own with an appreciation of where we came from—and wondering if it isn’t the best place to raise our own children. But, even if I came to the conclusion that raising my children on a farm in Western Nebraska was the best for them, I couldn’t do it. The life of the small American farmer is a tough one—and getting tougher every day. I’ve become too soft and too selfish for that life. Paul Harvey’s story was a lump-in-the-throat reminder of what this country was built on, and how far we have gotten away from it. My only hope is that those values will carry through to my children, regardless of where they are raised. God bless the American farmer.

Good Day.



Click here to see the Ram Trucks and Paul Harvey commercial.

24 comments:

  1. Suzi, I loved this! Tell Steve, it took me many years to "get" the one finger wave, but every now and then I find myself using it,often to the bewilderment of the wavee. Kathleen

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  2. What a great article, Suzi. Loved it. -V

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  3. My friend referred me to this blog as I'm a blogger, too and we grew up in the same small Iowa town, me a farmer's daughter. I melted at that commercial and we listened to Paul Harvey at "dinner," too.

    I help my parents still on the weekends, but I live in Bellevue, Nebraska (a suburb) and I, too, have grown soft. I recognized every word of your childhood. I've written similar types of things on my own blog. This touched me, just as the commercial did.

    Best of luck with your children. It will work as long as you're consistent and instill responsibility.

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  4. Well said! Was pretty much like that in the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's around rural Hesston, KS too. I miss a lot of it today, but graduating from HS and getting away couldn't come too soon for me! Too bad our children don't know what it is like to create their own fun and get dirty without mom getting angry about how much those clothes cost and where they came from!

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  5. Wow, that much like my life. I was raised in Eastern Nebraska and now live in Northern Virginia. I couldn't wait to leave the "sticks" and let my parents know it! Now I miss everything I once hated but I still wouldn't move back.

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  6. Wherever you end up, farms and small towns are still the best places to be from. I just wish that I would have realized that when I was there.

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  7. Great writing! I couldn't agree more. 25 years old, Grew up in Chamberlain, South Dakota live in Minneapolis now and travel extensively. Couldn't be happier to grow up in a small town because of the values it instilled in me. I am very seriously considering moving to a rural area when I have children even though it would not help my career.

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  8. I took the time to read this as I felt it is important. I lived in the city and moved out of town when my children were small. They appreciate country life as I do too. they had chores and hated them too but are so glad they were able to stay out of trouble in the city during school days. I don't care to live in the city ever again. All the temptations as you said. Great read. Thanks.

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  9. Reading this was like you were reading MY mind and grew up alongside me in Northeast Nebraska 30 years ago: summers filled with chopping thistles in the pastures, walking soy beans, harvesting garden veggies, bucking hay and straw bales, dressing chickens; and in winter scooping feed bunks on those days school was cancelled, cleaning out dirty hog barns, and chopping ice out of frozen water tanks so the livestock could drink. God I miss those days! I live in a small Kansas town now but it's not the same.

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    1. Northeast Nebraska was great...I grew up there too.

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    2. WOW I think we must have grown up on the same farm, those were all the things I did too! Didn't always like it, but sure learned a lot from it.

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  10. Suzi, I found your blog through a Facebook link. Where did you grow up? I spent 16 years in Oshkosh and, while I lived in town, I can relate to so much of what you wrote. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. 14 miles south of Oshkosh. My dad is Wes Paulsen. I went to high school in Chappell--graduated in 1992. Thanks for the compliment.

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    2. Greetings to you Oshkosh'ites. I ran the Garden County News in the 80's
      Like many of the posts fond memories of the time spent in rural western Nebraska, but it has definite trade offs.

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    3. This is great! As I am reading your blog I am thinking---this sounds just like my growing up years! Amazing to see that we are from the same area :) I was raised on a farm north of Lodgepole and graduated from there in 1985. My dad just turned 82 and is still farming...he is an inspiration to all the family.

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  11. Great blog. I am raising my kids in the same small Nebraska farming town I grew up in. I attended college in the city, and you can have it. There is a reason that our small farming communities are getting smaller every year. The elderly are moving away to cities with health care around the corner, the High School graduates are moving to the cities for high paying jobs. Amazing though a few do return to raise their kids here after they get tired of the crime and high cost of living. To those of you who have moved away to raise your families, I feel sorry for your kids who will only ever know milk to come from a store. I'm sure the "Farmer"commercial won't rank as the most watched, but to those of us who work to feed the world, it was simple reminder that what we are doing is still important, even if we never hear it.

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  12. Suzi,

    I love your blog. I grew up in Northeast Nebraska and can relate in so many ways to your blog. My grandpa was a farmer and my dad was a farmer along with many other relatives. I still call lunch "dinner" and miss the one finger wave. I miss the farm so much, I have learned many lessons and values from working hard.
    And cherish those days on the farm. I thank my parents for raising me in a small farming community I don't think I would be who I am today if I were raised in a city.

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  13. Aaah...the one finger wave. I grew up in "the big city", my husband was a farm boy from Northeast, NE. Every time we go back to his home area we joke about that "one finger wave". I'm pretty sure he thinks I think it's crazy or dumb because of the joking we do. But truly I think it's one of the (many) things that makes me wish I'd grown up around there or at least wish we could have raised our 4 daughters up there. LOVE your story and the Paul Harvey Farmer commercial!! Thank you for sharing. I will make sure my husband reads it as well. :o) Good day.

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  14. Everything you have said was spot on to my life growing up as a farmers daughter in southwest nebraska! We lived 8 miles from town. Our neighbors are still a mile away, everyone has the 1 finger wave and always there to help out if needed! During the summer if the cows were happy, thistle chopped and basically anything that we had to get up in the early morning to do because of the heat was done, then we got to play. The only way to get to town to the pool was hitching a ride with dad in the grain truck. Catch was, he dropped me off at the highway and had to walk about 6 blocks to the pool! Still love being able to go home and help with harvest and the cattle. Miss those days of seeing the baby calves running in the spring playing. I live in northwest ks and but it just isnt the same. I have young nieces that are 3,8 and nephew that is almost 6 and they get so excited to go to the farm to see the cows and help Grandma and Grandpa. Also with growing up on a farm my parents always and still do have a huge garden. I now have my own garden and love being able to carry on some of the farming traditions at my house! What can I say COUNTRY LIFE IS THE BEST!!!!!

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  15. I grew up in Southeast Nebraska. I lived in a "big town" of 300 and spent most of my summers with my grandparents farm. It was only 15 or 20 years ago, but it seems like yesterday that we would sit to eat our lunch, much of it that came from the farm its self, and listen to Paul Harvey. I sometimes wonder if I should move back to a simpler life....I enjoyed your blog post. God Bless. :)

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  16. I grew up on Southwest Nebraska and am a 'city girl' by all definition. I married a farm boy 11 years ago and never expected nor wanted to come back home. But here we are 10 years later, living 100 yards from his folks and have purchased the family farm. We are expecting our 3rd daughter in 3 months and I am SO EXCITED to give them the life you describe. I never dreamed I would love the country as much as I do and could NEVER live in town again. The country is what made my husband the most amazing man I could ever imagine! His work ethic, integrity and undying drive that keeps him getting up to walk row after row in 100 degree heat! GOD BLESS THE FARMER!

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  17. Suzi, this is wonderful blog and so true. From milking to driving tractor for my Dad, who had 4 daughters before there was a son, to ending up in a ditch on a gravel road. All this was my life but in central South Dakota. It has convinced me that farmers and their children have a quality of life that is not brought home until you live somewhere else. My kids will never see the northern lights (too many city lights) or beautiful sunrises and sunsets while standing in a field. They have chores, but not the hard ones on a farm that give you the experience the hard work with the good feelings of "earning the time off" to go to town and hang with friends. Thank your for your memories...they sparked old wonderful memories in me.

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  18. From Dalton, Nebraska..sure you know where thats at! Still live here and just want you to know that was a great read and hit close to home

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    1. I certainly do. Had several friends there!

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