Judith Sutherland: We survived 1960s, 1950s farm life


For those of you who are linked to the Internet and receive e-mail regularly, I’m sure you have seen the rather tongue-in-cheek commentary questioning our survival of the 1950s and 1960s.

It touches on the fact that we all certainly slept in cribs that had been painted with lead-based paint, rode our bikes without helmets, played all sorts of outdoor games without adult supervision and on and on.

Every time I have seen that particular anonymously-written piece, I have thought it is very clear that the writer most certainly grew up in a small town rather than on a farm, because a farm kid could add so many things to it.

I think of all the millions of times throughout the spring and summer when we walked every inch of the farm in our bare feet. We munched on clover and other unidentified field flowers. We jumped in hopper wagons filled with shelled corn, making “corn angels” like other kids made snow angels.

We climbed the silo halfway to the sky. We worked and played among animals that out-weighed us by a couple of tons. We didn’t worry about anything in those days! It was the most wonderful time to be a kid, no doubt about it.

The far barn

We spent hours upon hours of rainy days and cold winter days playing in the hay and straw mows. I will never forget one particular stretch of time when the barn that we always referred to as “the far barn” had straw stored in the east mow, and tons of hay packed tightly into the west mow.

We would roll those heavy track doors open so we had enough light and draw straws to determine who had which side of the barn for the day. Any fool would send up a prayer to win the straw side because it was less scratchy and the bales so much lighter to throw around.

That decided, the fun was about to begin. The contest rules stated that no hay or straw could be thrown down (or we would suffer penalty points between us, and perhaps Dad’s wrath later … ) but the bales must be arranged into what would serve as rooms of a home for our afternoon play. Bonus points were scored for the appearance of walk-through hallways from room to room.

We worked so hard! Even on the coldest winter day, we would work up a sweat undoing all the hard work that had been involved in packing those bales so tightly in the mow back in the heat of summer.

Looking back on it, it certainly must have been a huge aggravation to our father, but he never once complained.

We certainly could have been hurt. We could have fallen from the highest point of the mow as we wrestled with those bales that weighed about as much as we did. We could have broken an arm or leg or worse as we practiced swinging far out in to the wide open space of the center barn from the old pulley rope that dangled so enticingly above that west hay mow.

Can’t resist

Who could resist all that fun? It honestly never occurred to us that anything bad could happen to us. It was a magnificent world in which we created endless hours of play around endless hours of work.

Our neighbor kids were great entertainment for us, too. Just around the corner, an easy bike ride away, lived our veterinarian and his family. My sister Debi loved to stay overnight with Cindy, because there was no doubt that she had a whole ’nother world of fun at her fingertips!

There were dogs and cats to visit in the animal hospital kingdom of Doc’s practice, all sorts of interesting instruments to gaze upon and wonder about, visitors who were constantly coming and going, sometimes telling great jokes and laughing with Doc, sometimes crying over sad news Doc had just delivered.

It was sort of like live entertainment, an ongoing drama theater. It was better than anything that ever happened on our boring farm, that’s for sure! And lucky Doug and Cindy never had to get up in the crazy early-morning hours to milk a herd of cows.

One day that stands out in my memory is a clear testament to the fact that as children of the 1960s, we could find drama in the most innocent events.

I recall the day Debi came home and practically dragged me to our bedroom.


“I have something to tell you, and you cannot tell ANYBODY!” she admonished me. I could tell by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that this was big. Really, really big.

She situated herself and swallowed hard. I just knew that this was going to change my path in life forever. I stopped breathing, awaiting this huge secret.

“OK. Promise you won’t tell? Cross your heart and hope to die and stick a needle in your eye?” she asked me. I nodded my head yes so hard I whiplashed myself.

“All right. Here goes. Cindy and I did something today that nobody anywhere has ever, ever done. Ever. Don’t you dare tell. OK. We … well, we … you really are not going to believe this.”

She took a deep breath. Slowly, one word delivered haltingly at a time, she said, “We — ate — dog — food.”

I took a huge breath. I think I came very close to passing out.

“What? You guys might die! Did Cindy triple dog dare you or what?”

No, my sister assured me, but Cindy told her she had sort of tasted it once before and didn’t die. She also had claimed it really didn’t taste all that bad, and she wanted my sister to find out for herself. It was to be their secret forever and ever.

“Uh-oh. What if Cindy tried a different kind that other time? What if Doc got a new kind that has poison added to it? Do you feel funny? I think you look kind of funny,” I said all in one huge breath to my big sister who I adored.

“I’m scared. Maybe we should tell. What if an ambulance comes? Should I tell if an ambulance comes to get you? Should I tell the ambulance driver to stop by Cindy’s house, too?”

Just then, one of my other sisters called up the stairway and said we had work to do.


Debi jumped off the bed and said, “Remember, you promised. It’s a secret.”

As she ran down the stairsteps ahead of me, I thought I noticed something different about her. I was sure her ears looked a little funny. And maybe, just maybe, I noticed her walk was more like a swagger, a little bit like a dog wagging its tail in happiness.

I want you to know that yesterday I spoke with my sister on the phone and she is still a typical, healthy adult, and very recently I saw Cindy — who is once again my neighbor girl, just a bike ride away over a different hill — and she appeared to be absolutely fine.

I think it is time to let go of the cross-my-heart and hope-to-die promise and release this secret to the universe while taking a really deep breath. Wow … it’s amazing! I feel oh so much lighter!

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  1. I have so many fond, vivid memories of our small cattle farm (dairy and beef). We milked by hand, and I’ll always remember walking out to the pasture and getting the cows up at 5:00 a.m. and then slowly walking to the barn for milking. Our old pets. I still remember their names: Candy, Penny, Friday, Polly, Holly, Molly, Clover, et al. Times were so much better then.

    Best to you;

    Ron Michaelson


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