Taking a walk down memory lane in letters

farm wife milking a cow

In my collection of old books, magazines, sales brochures and other such paper artifacts, are a good many farm magazines from many years ago.

It’s a lot of fun to go through these from time to time and read the letters from farm people seven or eight decades ago.

For example, there’s a copy of the August 1938 issue of The Farmer’s Wife, which was billed as “The Magazine for the Country Woman,” and was published in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Perhaps, modern farm women, readers will be interested in a few of the letters farm women of that time wrote to the editor (a man, naturally).

Under the heading, It Depends on the Method, one wily New Mexico woman wrote:

“One evening a neighbor said to my husband, ‘I think my wife spends the day thinking of jobs for me when I come in evenings. Doesn’t she realize I’ve been working all day, too?’

“I try not to do that to my husband and try to tackle difficult jobs myself.

“But I will admit that if the task is very disagreeable or difficult, I’ll wait to start it until it’s about time for him to come in.

“Then he’ll say, ‘Now dear, that’s too hard for you, I’ll do it.’ And I’ll protest, ‘No, you’ve worked hard all day — I can manage it.’

“Of course he then does it and pats himself on the back for being such a thoughtful, considerate husband, while I congratulate myself upon my clever management. People are funny, aren’t they?”

We want more do’s

Another letter sounds more as though it was written by a teenager than a farm wife.

A West Virginian wrote:

“Our parents tell us not to do this or that, or something else. ‘Don’t do this!’ ‘Don’t do that!’ Don’t go there!’ Don’t say that!’ ‘Don’t wear that!’

“Then our ministers preach: ‘Young people, don’t go here; don’t go there; don’t do this or that’; but they don’t tell us what to do instead. If they would only suggest something! If they would give us a ‘do’ for each ‘don’t,’ we would be much better off.

“Why not help us see the right as well wrong?

“You say that ‘Kids don’t listen to their parents,’ but maybe it’s because all you offer is Don’t, Don’t, Don’t!”

Hard life

A Washington woman gave some good advice to other mothers under, The Price of Shoe Economy.

‘Sonny can wear these shoes a little longer — they aren’t worn out. Well, they are a little short for his toes but I’ll get him a new pair in a few months.’

“Sometime in my life — I don’t remember when — my shoes were too short for too long and my feet have since been in a terrible state.

“I am unable to move my toes freely due to shortened muscles and my feet are weak. It is hard to balance my body at times and I cannot walk gracefully.

“I can’t wear high-heeled shoes, except for ‘dress-up’ occasions when I feel I must.

“I tire easily — and my whole body aches when my feet are tired. I am young, but at times I feel old.

“I have two babies and certainly intend to get them new shoes when theirs are beginning to bind their feet. I certainly don’t want them to go through life as I must.”

New experience

An amusing letter from a young Alabama wife headed, I’ll be a Real Farm Woman Yet, points out the some of the difficulties of a town reared girl marrying a farmer.

“I’m a city girl, new to the farm.

“This is my first year at making a garden, and you should see it. My mustard greens and radishes, which I planted with such care, have sprouted thicker than quills on a porcupine.

“The rabbits have made their midnight lunches off my garden, with carrots as the main dish, until it’s ‘here a carrot, there a carrot,’ where once grew my neat rows.

“My tomato plants were besieged by tiny, round bugs. After knocking them off for a few days and trying to kill them all, I was smilingly presented with a spray gun.

“What a relief to see them drop dead without a ‘flick’ or a ‘squish’ from me!

“When my husband was sick a few months ago, I tried my hand at milking. After fully ten minutes of effort, I looked up to see Molly, the cow, looking back at me wisely, with her mouth full of hay.

“‘I guess you’re right old girl,’ I thought, as I carried my bucket to the house with all of a half cup of milk in it.

“Yes, I consider myself a farm woman now, and although green at the whole business, am determined to learn from the ground up.

“Next year my greens and radishes shall march across my garden in properly spaced rows and I shall demolish the whole bug clan with a few deadly hisses from my spray gun.”

The last letter reminds me of what my mother must have gone through when the exigencies of the Great Depression forced her town-reared self and my farm-raised father, newlyweds who both lost their office jobs, to move to my grandfather’s farm to try to make a living.

That they succeeded attests as much to Mom’s inner strength and determination as to Dad’s expertise and hard work.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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