The Farm…

Can you believe it? For a time this Rock Valley city slicker lived on a FARM. With 2 kids. And no car. Hubby was commuting daily to Cedar Rapids, about 40 miles away. Mid-70’s, John had finally escaped the clutches of the 5-whack-brothers in Dyersville. Neither of us felt like this was a permanent situation, so we resisted the urge to move again. Tough on John because his day was long. Commute wasn’t fun, even less when driving a junker that required constant attention to make that daily drive. But not exactly a picnic for me either. See above: 2 kids, no car and a driveway from hell.

Hanging out a load of wash. Even outside, they smelled of hogs…


Almost spring when we moved in and the house came complete with their last Christmas tree. Or maybe it was from the year before. The trunk was still upright, but everyone of the 82,467 needles were snuggled deep into the carpet. Since Josh was of the age where eating anything off the floor was his favorite past time, my first job was staying a couple feet ahead of him. The closest town was Cascade, population 1700, about 15 minutes from New Vienna/Dyersville, my Catholic-ville story. Shannon was 5-1/2.

Our first and last time in 45 years of living on a farm. The house was set so far back, I couldn’t see the gravel road. The drive-way was gravel, dirt and large rocks. And long. Very long. The highlight of my day was walking Joshua in the stroller to get the mail. Wrote and received a lot of letters. I actually wore out a set of tires on that stroller, the drive-way was so bumpy. Think it might have been responsible for the loss of a few of Shannon’s baby teeth. Seems like I never had to give that last little tug. She’d step on a rock the wrong way, jarring her mouth, and another payment from the tooth fairy was in order. Many days Josh and I made that miserable trip twice, walking or bouncing along to meet Shannon when she got off the bus.

With so much time on my hands, I did hone some new exciting skills, finally. Cooking and baking. We did not buy a loaf of bread for over a year. I made home made bread, buns, cinnamon rolls twice a week. Baked something almost everyday. Learned to cook some decent suppers. The best thing though were the pies. The yard-grove had several apple trees, and I became a pretty good pie maker. Never did learn the name of that one specific tree, but they were still the best pie apples I’ve ever used. Green, tart, hard, but not a Granny Smith.The house was surrounded by crops. John was in hunting heaven. A mere 50 feet to all the pheasants he and our German Shorthair pointer, Anja could track, shoot and eat.


I was heading to the basement to get some meat out of the freezer. We had an old chest type from the Stone Age, but it kept all my newly found culinary masterpieces hard as a rock. My beautiful assorted fruit pies, numbering around 100, plus meats, and breads were swimming in a big pot of nasty smelling juices and blood. Couldn’t believe my eyes. My old freezer had taken it’s last gasp. No wait, much worse. It was unplugged. Why that stinking, miserable, mister-fix-it-hubby-of-mine had been down there a couple days before trying to improve his master-building skills. The whole basement had one outlet. John had been using power tools, thus had to unplug my freezer. Oh, there would be hell to pay. Hell. To. Pay. Slammed the lid shut and stomped upstairs crying at my huge loss. No way was I cleaning that up. The stuff was irreplaceable. We were through the fruit seasons, and we could barely afford to buy meat in the first place, let alone replace it. But for one blessed night while we lived there, not one solitary hog feeder lid was ever raised or clunked back down. While we slept soundly and noiselessly, the hogs feasted on the contents of my freezer. And I did not lift one finger to help, but sure fumed about it for awhile.

One of fondest memories about the farm was the yard. We had a nice yard and the kids and I were out there a lot. Little swimming pool kept them cool. We bought Joshua a little plastic lawn mower. He followed John around the yard every time he mowed.

We were attending a church in Cascade. The disco-era-church-going-kids.

We were renting a farm house from Bob. Strange dude trying to earn the title for: owner of the most farm land, most cattle, biggest dairy herd, most hogs while moving his family to squalor. I think he won that award. Our newly rented digs was the former home to Bob, wife Maryanne and their young daughter. A nice, sunny 2-story. But Bob needed to be closer to the milk cows, so he packed up his little family and moved to a horribly dilapidated house down the road a piece. (Yes I even picked up farm lingo) Which is why the nice farm house was available. Always felt sorry for Maryanne. Treated much worse than their hired man, who was treated badly she put in long days helping Bob with all kinds of back-breaking, unappreciated labor, all the while being belittled and criticized by “Bob the farmer.” I was watching them one day from the window when Maryanne got kicked by a cow hard enough to knock her to the ground. Bob sang out his sweet, melodious epitaphs for 10 minutes before she managed to get up. Let’s just say Bob and I would not have endured a very long-lasting relationship. There wouldn’t have been a need for birth control on his part, and he would have been known as “steer” throughout the farming community.

Cascade actually had its own public elementary school. Yay. One year old Joshua and mommy would be left to our own devices.

Farm also had lots of livestock. Some feeder cattle but mostly hogs. Long before hog or cattle confinements were popular, but might as well have been. The hog feeders were on the ground, with individual feeding stations. Kind of resembled a cut pie. With a top crust. They were wedged with a lid covering each pie-shape. The hog would stick his snout under the lip of the lid, lift it up, gorge and snort for awhile, then drop the lid back down with a clunk. Hundreds of hogs doing this night-and-fricking-day. Took us about a year to be able to sleep through this noise. (Where was my hearing loss when I really needed it?) One beautiful summer day, about 100 hogs got out of their pen and decided to root through my garden for a nice change of pace meal. My first and last attempt at growing my own stuff. Still think this is what turned me off from growing anything. But that’s why God made farmer’s markets.

Shannon riding her own tractor, 1976.,,

The next night John walked in the house from work with this bit-o-news: “Bob the farmer” had stopped him on the road home. Told him he was having 2 expert veterinarians from Iowa State come to the farm that night. Several of his hogs had dropped dead. The vets were coming to determine what had killed them. My heart just stopped. The hogs were kicking the bucket over my rotten food. (And the only good nights sleep in a year) I’d be arrested! I ran out to the pen hysterical. All the fat little farts were doing just fine. Hubs was yanking my chain. I’m still astounded he pulled that little stunt. He should have been filled with remorse, chagrined-not giving me a ration of shit.

Shannon was going to be in her first Christmas program. John was helping her memorize her lines. She had it down pat, but dad was worried about the volume. She was not comfortable in the decibel range he thought necessary so Josh and I could hear her in the back of the church. He constantly encouraged her to articulate, slowly and LOUDLY. Her part was a sing-songy lyric about advent. There is no possible way to write what she sounded like that night. My face still burns with embarrassment. Sorry Shannon, this was not your fault. I guess the best word describing it is crescendo. The line repeated several times was, “4 candles in a ring.” The “4 candles” part was perfect, nice and loud. The “in a ring” part broke the sound barrier, shattering a couple stained glass windows. Luckily these were on the sides, saving the kids, and us in the back. I was back there in case Josh got noisy. Fear not mommy, nothing could top our daughter’s solo. After a couple trips to the doctor for shattered ear drums for those sitting nearby, the whole congregation was ready to move on and tackle a new year. Good job daddy…

Shannon 6, Cascade, Iowa. 1977…








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