Farm life was hard, but joy-filled


Part V

“A man is entitled to one good dog and one good woman in his life,” Charlie was known to say.
After pausing, he then said, “Well, I had me a good dog once.”

His bright blue eyes would sparkle and he would smile as those around him laughed. I would be willing to bet the farm he never said this within earshot of his wife!

But Charlie would be the first to tell you his serious and somber wife was just what he needed to get through the hard work of farming and raising three children with very little in those days just after World War I.

Hard-working couple

With the arrival of grandchildren in the early 1930s, life shifted in to a new gear for the hard-working couple.

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Their schoolteacher daughter Helen, who had married and brought my father in to the world, was a progressive woman with a driver’s license and the means to take her mother places.

One day, the two returned from town with their hair bobbed, a shocking turn of events, to hear Charlie tell it.

Love of music

Virginia won a scholarship to Chicago’s Sherwood Music Conservatory, and Helen arranged for a train trip to visit her there. Their mother carried a frozen chicken along so they would have food from home while visiting. Helen began recruiting piano students for her young sister, distributing business cards back home, which instructed those interested to call “5070 Brown” to arrange an appointment.

This would become Virginia’s lifelong passion and profession, teaching many hundreds of children and adults over her long life.

Like grandpa… Little Stanley adored his grandfather, and loved to emulate his every move. Charlie had several teams of work horses, and while he worked the fields, the little boy would find another set of harnesses and lines and take them out and fasten them to the fence post, stretching those lines out so he could be driving the horses just like Grandpa.

After putting the horses away for the night, Charlie would say, “Well, little Stanley was here. I see he’s got the lines tied to the fence post again.”

Hearing this story in later years, my father would shake his head at what kind of kid wouldn’t put the lines back where he got ‘em!

Loved to laugh

Charlie was always smiling, joshing with children, especially. One day he noticed Stanley had his boots on the wrong feet and got a good belly laugh out of that. After that, until the little boy was about 9 years old, he would intentionally put his boots on the wrong feet to go to Grandpa’s house because he knew it would give him a good chuckle.

“He had a way about him,” my father once said. “Somebody else would tell a kid something like that and hurt his feelings, but not Grandpa — he always made you feel good, like you were special, and you knew you were loved. He was always joking.”

Lots of work

For Anna, life was decidedly all work and no play. She churned butter and sold it along with her eggs, raised a large garden and canned everything from garden produce to meats and fruits.

The couple made their own apple butter and maple syrup, cooking it down in large kettles over an open fire in an outdoor fireplace, as well as homemade bread and baked goods. Grandpa loved apple butter and home-made smearcase, now known as cottage cheese, on homemade bread.

For a time, the couple raised ducks and sold the cleaned ducks to the Otter Hotel for its fine dining restaurant. Virginia recalled chasing the wandering ducks home from the neighbors’ farm, and the hard work of cleaning the pin feathers.

Taking in family

Virginia married in 1938, Carl divorced, and his oldest son came to live with Charlie and Anna. Virginia and her husband maintained an upstairs apartment in their home for the first few years of their marriage.

Charlie’s nephew (his brother Frank’s son) came to help with the farming for a monthly wage of $18, plus room and board. Church and community club rounded out this busy household.
Life was full, but was about to take a sad turn.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.


  1. I have really enjoyed reading your column the last four weeks. What a treasure that you have this information. People need to realize how easy their lives our compared to what their ancestors went through.

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