“For although he was insatiably a farmer and his father and grandfathers and great-grandfathers had been Owen County farmers, he did not live on his farm. When Walter married Clara in 1903, they began housekeeping in the town and never moved to the farm. That was before rural electricity, furnaces, power mowers, good roads, or the daily mail delivery came to the farms.
Land and livestock were wealth, but town living was considered more elegant. Clara liked elegance. She liked to talk about the beauty of farm sunsets, and to admire good, purebred cattle, and she enjoyed a drive to the country where in autumn she could gather bouquets of small lavender field asters from the roadsides, or bring home wild grapes to make into dark jelly, but she did not want to live on a farm. She preferred being a part of town society.”
— from “The Land, The People” by Rachel Peden
Nearly all of my adult life, I have gathered the writings of Rachel Peden like a wonderful bouquet. I have often felt as though I know this woman who I understand so distinctly.
Mrs. Peden wrote a newspaper column from her Indiana farm house in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, then compiled her works in to several books. Much of her writing, I have been told, is so similar to mine. She loved her country life in Indiana, and she thoroughly enjoyed the land and the people who made her world so charming and enjoyable.
Rachel and her husband, Richard, raised one son and one daughter at a time when growing up on a family farm was a rather typical lifestyle. In spite of that, she seemed to grasp the fact that this was a gift rather than something to be simply taken for granted.
The first reading
The first time I read a Rachel Peden column, reprinted in an old Farmer’s Almanac, I went in search of more of her work. I felt like I had struck gold when I found one of her books for sale at my local public library’s annual public sale. I think I only paid $1 for it, and it felt as though I had stolen a fancy gem from a flea market, the seller unaware of how great this find really was.
Later, I found a second book authored by her and have read both books over and over, the pages now slightly ragged and dog-eared. So, it amazed me beyond words when, about a year ago, I received a request by way of correspondence directed through the Farm and Dairy from Indiana University Press.
An editor affiliated with the university had read one of my columns in which I had opened with a quote from Mrs. Peden. They were writing to ask if I would be willing to write a review of the book, The Land, The People, in hopes of having the book reprinted.
I was thrilled to be asked. I wrote, in part, “Ms. Peden’s writings remind us that we have not only survived the challenges and fed upon the beauty of the land, but we have thrived as a people by drawing strength from our humble country roots.”
Just this past week, I received a beautiful copy of the newly printed book, my words published on the back cover. Beneath my name, a photograph of the woman I have long admired is shown, as she collects her daily mail at the end of her farm lane.
Many of my friends immediately commented how much she looks like me, with one of my friends thinking I had actually posed for the photograph, dressed in vintage clothing.
I love that Mrs. Peden describes neighbors and ancestors as true country bluebloods or those who avoided the sometimes harsh reality of farm living. She seemed to totally grasp that we are, in large part, who we are because of our connection to the land or our aversion to it. She lived from 1901 to 1975, and watched many changes in rural American during the course of those years.
How I wish I could sit down over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and tell Mrs. Peden how much I enjoy her writing, her great descriptions of rural America, 4-H and FFA, kids and animals, country neighbors and our eclectic mix of relatives.
Our talks would lead us out to walk the farm, would carry through the dusk and conclude under starry skies. I just know it.