Reading herself's blogs has made me think about how behind every good man is a good woman, nowhere is that more true than out on the farm. During my bluejacket FFA vo ag days, our ag instructor told us that perhaps no decision would be more important for our success than who we married. As I grow older I can see both the truth and wisdom in that statement...either you and your wife are partners in the effort of farming, or you are adversaries, if the wife/partner doesn't understand the unique nature of the farm, then generally you are in real trouble.
The sad part is there are alot of men who wouldn't begin to give their better halves the proper credit they are due. In some cases it is because the man can't admit the woman is as hard a worker as he is, in others I honestly believe they just can't see it. I don't know about the UK, but in our wide ranging neighborhood I can think of at least 2 farm wives who were much harder workers than their husbands, and it is and was generally accepted by everyone but the husband they were the only reason the farm stayed afloat, indeed in one case the wife has died, and the effect on the farming is obvious, in another the couple was divorced, and now the farmer is selling off land because he spends his nights at the bar, and his days sleeping it off.
To be sure and give Mrs. KF her due respect, along with my mother, there are scores of farm women who may not work much on the farm, but their jobs off the farm sometimes "keep the lights on" during tough times. Both my mother and my wife have excellent jobs, I can't speak for dad but I am grateful for the part my wife plays in keeping things running smoothly and the electric bill paid. There is no doubt that during the dark days in the 80s my mothers job as director of nursing at a hospital brought in far more money than dads farming, and if not for her I expect there is a good chance we might not have been able to stay on the farm. As the worry over our economy and farm prices increases, my wife reminds me I told her before we were married we may see times where she carries most or all of the household expenses, true to form Amy is willing and ready to face that challenge with her customary good humor and smile...indeed, my old ag teachers words ring in my ears, and I feel confident that I made a super choice in a partner on the farm.
Then, there are the woman who don't work off the farm, but are a vital part of the farm. Whether it is milking cows, baling hay, taking lunch to late working harvest crews, or going for parts, I have known my fair share of women who could work just as hard as any man, and still manage to dress up and look good for Saturday night or church Sunday morning. Before my time, a couple comes to mind, Cliff and Ella. They had moved to Kansas from Oklahoma because a large government lake had flooded their farm. They bought the farm my parents now own, and while I barely remember Ella and don't recall Cliff at all, these neighbors are vivid memories for my father and uncle. Cliff had a bad heart, so Ella bore the brunt of the hard work, both my dad and uncle are fond of quoting Cliffs lunchtime statement of "Ella, that tractor needs gas", a signal for Ella to fuel the tractor while Cliff ate lunch. While many farm women are legendary for their cooking ability, Ella was legendary for her lack thereof. We rarely drink hot tea in Kansas, but in the summer consume large quantities of iced tea. My father as a teenager sometimes helped Cliff and Ella, one day my grandfather ended up there for lunch. Dad had been dosed with some of Ella's cooking and in particular her nearly unpalatable iced tea, and waited gleefully for what was in store. Grandpa was a very confident man, and when asked if he wanted sugar in his tea remarked, "the stronger the better". According to dad, grandpa took one big swallow of the tea, turned slightly red, then said rather non-chalantly, "I believe today a little sugar might be a good idea".
Any ode to our local farm women would not be complete without mentioning our neighbor Bette. She can go from cooking lunch, to packing silage, to teaching Bible school without so much as a sweat. Not only that, she is about as nice a person as ever walked. Comfortable doing everything from combining to working cattle, she also managed to raise 4 children, and is a professional "grandma". One of my most enduring images of Bette will be her driving along the road during a big prairie fire handing out ice cold Pepsi to all those fighting the fire...and all the comments of "leave it to Bette to remember we needed something to drink". Another will be the time she turned the tractor over on the pit. For years I had been told not to pack without duals, then one year someone in the "crew" decided we didn't need to put duals on to pack. Bette hit an air pocket and the tractor turned over, for many that would have been all the packing they wanted for the day, but Bette stood patiently until the tractor was righted, then climbed back on and went back to packing.
My own grandmother also deserves mention as a "legendary farm woman". Grandma didn't ever run equipment, but she was a top hand with the bucket calves and hauling folks to and from the fields, was able to make do during the Great Depression when she went from being a university student and beauty queen to being a farm wife with no electricity living at the end of a dirt road that was impassible when it rained. She told a story that she knew the honeymoon was over one Saturday afternoon when it rained while she and grandpa were in town. They made it half way down the lane before the car got stuck in the thick mud. My great grandparents lived at the opposite end of the lane, and my great grandfather was out in the middle of the road yelling at my grandfather to get a horse for grandma to ride so she wouldn't have to walk in the mud.....Grandpa growled under his breath "you can walk in the mud just as well as I can". Lest you get the wrong idea, I was always impressed with the fact my grandparents were such great friends, and right up to the end enjoyed each others company for their 68 year long marriage. Thinking of them leads me to end the blog with a bit about their lifelong friends, Fred and Hazel, a farm couple of the same age that lived a mile and a half away, perhaps my grandparents best friends. All up and down the valley it was known that Hazel was a cook of legendary ability, stories were told of her feeds put on during haying and filling silo, and everyone knew you were lucky to eat at a table laden with Hazels food.....everyone but Fred.
Judging by Fred's overall roundness(in later years I always felt he bore a remarkable resemblance in some ways to Jabba the Hut of Star Wars fame, with a much friendlier face) he enjoyed at least part of what Hazel cooked. Grandma told of an evening when they went to the home of Fred and Hazel for supper, after Fred took his first bite of steak he growled, "it takes me all year to raise this steak, it only takes you 10 minutes to ruin it". Hazel didn't comment, and ate her supper visiting as usual. The next time my grandfolks went to Fred and Hazels to eat, when Hazel delivered the steaks, Freds was put before him uncooked, with the rather icy comment, "since you are so damned smart, cook it yourself". I think Fred got the message.
In one of the James Herriot books the author recalls calling on a farmer who had just lost his wife, with a tear in his eye he said something like "by Gawd, that woman could work".. My message for all the guys out there with good women at their sides, don't be afraid to give them their share of the credit. It would be a shame for them never to know you appreciate them.