My mother never lived on a farm until she married Dad. The rolling, treeless prairies where one could see for miles, under big skies and puffy white clouds, were all new to her. She came from Iowa in the mid-west USA – an old established area where the trees were many and old, where the corn grew 6 feet tall, and there were no coyotes howling in the night. Moreover, she had lived her whole life in small cities or large towns. She took to her new life like a duck to water, and never regretted her choice of husband, farm life, or new citizenship.
Despite all that she remained a town girl living on a farm. Everyday life continued to hold surprises for her. At the top of the list was raising two daughters who knew only the life that was so new to her. Years later she confessed to me that many times she despaired, “I thought I was raising little savages!” That remark surprised me. I could not see anything so strange, and certainly not savage, about the childhood Doris and I had lived. We were just ordinary farm kids on the prairies! It is some 40-odd years since that conversation with Mom, and I view things somewhat differently now. My clearest memories of my pre-school years are, of course, of the times I got into trouble…
There was the time that, while playing near the barn, I found a little mouse nest complete with newly born baby mice. I was fascinated by those tiny creatures. Picking one up by its tail I held it up against the light. One could almost see through it. My dog Trixie mistakenly thought I was offering him a treat, so sat down on his haunches, opened his mouth wide and waited. Giving in to the temptation, I dropped the little mouse into his open mouth. Down it went in one swallow – and just as quickly came back up! I tried again with the same results. The dog seemed unable to believe the next one wouldn’t taste better, and so it went on. My laughter caught my Dad’s attention. He turned up – saw what I was doing and the game immediately ended! Big lecture — the gist of it was it was bad, bad, bad to hurt any living thing for your own amusement – even a mouse. Dad took the nest with the remaining babies away from me and stomped off. I was startled at the intensity of his disapproval, but then the bell rang. I remembered a short while before he came across my sister and me viewing a bat we had found on the barn floor. Doris had poked it with her toe – it squeaked. Then she jumped on it and to her amusement – even louder squeaks. Doris’s laughter was cut short by Dad’s arrival. A few good swats across her bottom and a lecture (much like the one I just heard) followed.
It took two tries before Dad’s words sank in – but sink they did. Two days ago Doris, now 90, and I, now 89, were having a visit and reminiscing. These two incidents came up and were still very clear in our memories. Dad’s message of respect for and kindness to all living life including people, became part of who we became and how we live. So young parents with lively kids, don’t despair! They may be absorbing more than you think.
However, in retrospect, perhaps Mom did have a few challenges with her prairie kids!