The Woman on the Farm

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One of my earliest memories of farm life is my mother washing out milkers with the hose, her back bent, her brow knitted as she focused on the task. People who knew her as the kind-but-strict schoolteacher or the music-loving choir director might have been surprised to see how hard she worked at home, but that was life on the farm in the '50s.

It was a family farm, which meant my father stayed on the land his parents owned, becoming a partner by sharing the work with his father. My grandmother was the gardener, growing vegetables to can, and the raiser of chickens for eggs and meat as well. We kids were often given tasks like gathering eggs, picking potato bugs, and pulling weeds to make Grandma's work easier.

Though raised as a "city girl," Mom could drive a tractor or kill a chicken for Sunday dinner, thought she later confessed to me that when she had to chop the head off one of the flock, she couldn't make herself eat the meat.

Mom, Grandma, and one or all of the aunts were responsible for feeding the men who came to help with the harvest, friends and neighbors, who rotated around a half-dozen farms, working as a team to get everyone's crops in the barns or sheds in as short a time as possible. I remember the excitement at mealtime on those days, when my job was to carry the food from the kitchen to a table (usually boards set on sawhorses) outside. Men of all ages sat elbow-to-elbow, eating heartily whatever we set in front of them, their faces and arms red from sunburn below and white above their caps and shirtsleeves. Their voices were loud as they discussed the crop, the machinery, and how long they had to get the work done before rain or night. When our crops were cut and stored they went on to someone else's, where other women showed off by providing their best meal, just as we did.

Those images come back to me as I write the Sleuth Sisters mysteries, and bits and pieces slide into the stories.
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