Clovis Webb had left his tractor and hay baler overnight in a rented field on the old Monroe County Poor Farm, which is no longer used for the poor. The Soil Conservation Service share-rented the hayfield to Clovis. The field was fenced, but the night he left his tractor there vandals cut the fence and wrecked tractor and baler. ‘They simply rimracked it,’ Clovis said. Any farmer would have known what he meant.
– Rachel Peden, from Speak to the Earth
By JUDITH SUTHERLAND
Farm and Dairy columnist
Christmas came early for me one day this past week, arriving in a large Farm and Dairy envelope. Indiana University Press has re-printed and released Rachel Peden‘s final book, which editor Susan Crowell was kind enough to forward on to me.
Rachel Peden penned a newspaper column back in the 1950s through the early 1970s, sharing her observations of country life. Speak to the Earth is the last of the books put together from her columns, and in it she notes the home farm had raised and bid farewell to her two children, Joe and Carol.
The family farm where she worked, pondered and did her writing is in southern Indiana, near the university town of Bloomington. She wrote several columns a week for the Indianapolis Star and the Muncie Evening Press until her death in 1975, each one fresh and crisp, speaking to farm people who most certainly would nod and smile and feel a kinship to her.
She left politics and secular commentary for someone else to dissect, focusing only on the wonders and workings of a farm.
I found my first Rachel Peden book, Rural Free, simply by good fortune, spotting it at my local library book sale years ago. I was honored to be quoted on the back jacket of the reprint of The Land, The People and feel a deep connection to this woman with whom I have much in common.
In telling of Clovis Webb’s misfortune, she wrote, “The tractor was demolished, ruined, damaged beyond repair. Farmers regularly use words other people never knew. If the need arises they make them up of whatever is at hand, as old-time pioneers made bowls and potato mashers, lard scoops and fence-post mauls, out of wood which was plentiful, and hollowed out big poplar logs to make meat-curing tanks or horse troughs.”
I can relate to every chapter of Rachel Peden’s book, and wish I could have sat down over a cup of coffee with her. The people she describes, like a wonderful cast of characters, would have enjoyed the folks who played similar roles in my community.
Great-grandpa Charlie would have hit it off with the man she calls Carr, who dealt with everyone kindly, every act wrapped in a little bit of gleeful orneriness, prompting others to dish it back to him at least once in awhile.
Of Carr, Peden writes, “If you ask him an embarrassing question he pushes his cap to the back of his head and protests, ‘You’re shootin’ in the nest!’ ” she writes.
When Peden’s column about the rimracked machinery was published, she received a response from a newspaperman who had covered Navy news during World War I. He told of a young reporter with a southern drawl and ‘some good regional words’ from the Southwestern U.S. who wrote ‘rimracked’ in his copy and it was published, prompting many inquiries from editors.
His United Press manager scolded the young man and told him never to use that word again. All those years later, around 1970, the Navy newspaper man wrote to Rachel Peden, “It was a new word to me and I am glad to see you have brought it back.”
We who are rooted in the land may not all speak the exact same language, but we most certainly understand one another. I am grateful that Rachel Peden’s two children gave their permission for her books to be reprinted, and that her colorful stories of their farm and country neighbors will live on.