A Farm Country Christmas
The 50’s and Today – How Do They Compare?
There’s something magical about growing up in an agricultural community. The enchantment increases throughout each year until we celebrate another Farm Country Christmas.
Farm kids and their “townie” friends rejoice in spring. They celebrate the new life an early spring will bring on the heels of another long winter. Kids make decisions about which baby animal will be trained and groomed for a chance to win the coveted blue ribbon at the next county fair.
Ah, summer! Today, you’ll find more kids in the town’s pool than you will on an inner-tube floating down the nearby river. Kids bask in the lingering warmth of summer sliding by at warp speed, until the day they hear the opening toll of the school bell.
The cooler nights of fall change the landscape from rolling shades of green to the brown and gold colors of the upcoming harvest. Everyone scrambles to harvest the crops before the ice and snow come to change everything.
Finally, we each sit down with pride to a table covered with the best yield in years, and we enjoy the annual feast with family and friends.
Grandma and Grandpa sit at the Thanksgiving table and share their thoughts on another perfect year. The kids begin to drop hints on what they might want for Christmas this year wondering if anyone is even listening.
Our year finally nears its end and the most beautiful season of all looms in front of us.
What’s important to remember about growing up in a farming community is that, for the most part, everyone knows everyone else in town. The kids are all friends throughout their school years. Their parents are either farmers or the vendors who service the farmer’s needs through the seasons. Everyone works together to create a robust community. Nothing can compare to the joys of growing up as an integral part of a farming community.
I remember some of the hardest winters in the 1950’s when I was growing up in Iowa’s farmland. The freezing rains would come first. They knocked down most of the electrical lines. An incredible amount of snowfall soon covered several inches of already established ice. Everything came to an abrupt halt. Crops not harvested would wait until spring.
Back then, we couldn’t fix the power outage in a couple of hours like we do today.
It could take several days before things got back to normal. Unfortunately, the people back then didn’t have the money to get a generator for a backup. The wealthier people in town and the biggest farmers had generators, but most everyone else was in jeopardy due to the power outage. Our homes were modest, and few people had fireplaces to keep them warm.
The snow days brought our town together. Those were the days I loved the most…I especially enjoyed it when the storm arrived just before Christmas. We had the most incredible slumber parties ever, under the glowing lights of the Christmas tree!
They Arrived on the Heels of the Storm
A few hours after the power went out, our front doorbell would ring. People stood waiting for us to open the door. They held a small satchel of clothing in one hand and whatever food they could pull from their refrigerator that would be worth sharing in the other.
The folks who needed shelter came from the Christian Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, and the Catholic Church to partake in our hospitality. All were welcome. Everyone brought a pillow and a blanket. By bedtime, there would be no space left on the floors of our 3-story home.
Everyone Pitched In
Meals became a collaboration of whatever people pulled from their refrigerators when they headed to the warmth of our home. The ladies would put everything on the kitchen table, rearrange it, and come up with a fantastic meal plan three times each day. I can still hear their laughter as they worked in the kitchen together.
One neighbor across the alley from us was a butcher. We were never short of meat to cook for the crowd.
The men gathered in the living room to discuss the latest team scores and newest farm implement innovations.
When you think about Christmas this year, think about how beautiful the times were in your life when everyone came together for the common goal of providing good results for everyone. Those are my memories of a rural Christmas.
We didn’t want things to return to normal.
The atmosphere was jovial during the 2-3 days it would take to restore power to everyone. Sometimes a few houses on the East side of town would be restored first, and those folks would reluctantly pack up their pillows and blankets and trudge back home through the drifts.
No one wanted to leave. The stories and camaraderie we all felt at those times when we were forced together in a small space helped mold a community that learned there is power in numbers. For a brief time, we all became children again during those storms.
We found out that no one can go hungry when everyone pitches in with whatever they can give at the time. It took no time to discover that there is more to be grateful for and to laugh about than there is to be angry about.
People gather for special holiday presentations in our rural communities. In Keota, Iowa, we gathered in front of the Avon Theater and Dasher’s Drug Store where they put up the makeshift outdoor stage. Folks in Menomonie have a perfect location for holiday entertainment at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts.
The sounds and sights of our annual holiday entertainment filled our senses to overflowing, and we begged for more. How could we not?
All Were Considered Equal
I’ll forever carry the memories of those snow days in my heart. Those who filled our home ranged in age from small babes-in-arms to the elderly. The minister and his wife took charge of children’s activities and prayers before meals. Everyone had a job.
In the evenings, we told stories. It was much like summer camp when the kids sat around an open fire by the lake and made up stories to scare each other. Instead of monsters and ghosts, our winter stories were filled with the Christmases of long ago. We shared stories. You could hear a pin drop when we learned how they saved Mrs. Axelbury during the worst blizzard ever, thanks to a determined doctor in a horse-drawn sleigh. We marveled at the descriptions of hand-made gifts that lifted a child’s spirit at the turn of the century.
Memories of harvests and the bounty of the countryside filled every corner of those days, as we waited for the technicians to restore our electricity.
Everyone Provides Value
The kids would divide up into groups based on age to play games on the carpet. Those were the days when everyone in that house was an equal. We each had value and provided a laugh or a kind word – whatever was needed by another to get through the hours that no longer seemed to linger forever.
Laughter filled our days and nights as the generator provided the heat and light necessary to protect and feed us. That’s the thing about farm country. We all understand the importance of working together to bring about the best outcome for both the living creatures and the land we inhabit.
Don’t Take Anything for Granted
We don’t take anything for granted in a small farming community. Everyone knows how to work hard. When things got tough, we always came together to fight for the greater good of all. We shared the cookies and candies that were made for the holidays before the lights went out. Everyone exchanged small tokens of appreciation with those who shared their bounty with us during a Farm Country Christmas.
Is there ever anything better than Christmas spent in farm country? Can we ever forget how the people around us always had our backs when times were tough, and we needed the extra encouragement to make it through the day?
Christmas isn’t just about the birth of Christ. It’s about a promise to everyone to come together and love each other, no matter what our background. It’s not about city versus country. I don’t believe it’s even about origin or religion. For those who participate in Christmas celebrations, it’s the best time of the year. It’s when we forget all about being judgmental and become the best people we can be.
Perhaps this year, we’ll have the determination to carry the “Farm Country Christmas Spirit” beyond the holiday season and into the New Year and beyond. It is, after all, what those who came before us would have expected from us.
Let this beautiful season and agricultural setting melt your anger and mend your heart. Take yourself back to the days when we had to depend on each other to survive. That is the spirit we need to grasp and pull into 2017 with us.
Merry Christmas to All!
Memories of a Farm Country Christmas
By Peggy M McAloon, 2016
Written for publication for The Dunn County News Christmas Edition