You are here
When my daughters were young, I spent hours reading storybooks to them. Looking back, I regret I didn't take a page out of my grandma's book.
Grandma Burns was a storyteller. As we shelled peas on her porch or divided her iris bed, she shared family stories. Her own story was inspiring.
In 1894, when she was 16 years old, she boarded a train with her family at Owego, Iowa. Her hearing had been impaired by an illness, and a doctor suggested a visit to San Diego might work wonders. It didn't.
A few years later, Grandma married her childhood sweetheart and gave birth to five children.
Warren, her fourth child, died at age 3 from a ruptured appendix. At the time, she was two weeks away from giving birth to a daughter. Three years later, that daughter, Bernice, died from scarlet fever. My mother, who was older, survived it.
Grandma's hearing loss eventually became profound. She never indulged in self-pity. She helped Grandpa hang onto the farm during the Depression and continued to live there for a decade after he died. An avid reader and gardener, she celebrated her 98th year in good health.
She was a strong woman. Thanks to her family stories, I grew up in awe of my pioneering foremothers who settled and cultivated the land.
That's why I was excited in 1989 when American Agri-Women (AAW) launched a project to compile the life stories of women. I invited readers to send their stories. More than 50 "herstories" arrived from 19 states.
"Women were the glue that held together the family and the farm during good times and bad," says Carol Ann Gregg, AAW project coordinator. "Though history books ignore or minimize their contributions, these unsung heroines quietly prepared the way for us today."
These oral and written histories, called From Mules to Microwaves, were donated to the Agriculture Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.
Now Women at the Reins: Farm Memories Based on the Collection From Mules to Microwaves is a new book by LaRayne Meyer Topp. The stories are arranged by theme, including "A Stitch in Time," "A Saddle on a Sow," "Hard Times and Thin Dimes," and "Love and Marriage." To order a copy, call 800/678-5752.
Over the past three decades, I've seen a major evolution of women's off-farm and on-farm roles. In fact the recently released 2007 Census of Agriculture shows a 30% increase from 2002 in women principal farm operators. I've never farmed with mules, but I'm quite sure we couldn't manage today without microwaves.
Photograph: Jason Donnelly
When my daughters were young, I spent hours reading storybooks to them. Looking back, I regret I didn't take a page out of my grandma's book. Grandma Burns was a storyteller. As we shelled peas on her porch or divided her iris bed, she shared family stories. Her own story was inspiring.