This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.
Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds. Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames. Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast. Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.
I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm. I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time. Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house. Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm. At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.
The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales. Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared. A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud. Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough). Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen? I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.
There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat! It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.
I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house. The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going. There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow. That picture hangs over the bed in the basement. There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards. I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.
I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm. I used to walk over there to make cookies with her. Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in. At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream. I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time. Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk. That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.
Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born. I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room. I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table. I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years. Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs. Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night. Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave. There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else. It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.
I can remember when things were a little different. The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description). Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits. Grandma drove. Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field. I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.
Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me. The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done. The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.
Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed. Grandma died a few years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s. Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State. The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago. But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains. It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.