The farming occupation during the depression and the years following produced a special breed of men. They were tough, hard-working, sleep-deprived but full of hope for the future. Their day began at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. every day the whole year around. Most of them did not have a high school education because they were kept home from school to help their parents. They married women with multiple skills who were willing to work alongside them without complaint. All these guys wore the same uniform -- blue denim shirt, bib overalls and working boots. In the winter they added long underwear and lined denim jackets. My tall, handsome, brown-eyed dad was one of these men.
At the end of a year of hard work, these farmers could gain financially or they could suffer a loss despite their efforts. Their profit depended almost entirely on the weather during the growing months. One very bad hail storm could destroy an entire crop of mature corn or grain. A wind storm could flatten every plant that had been sown in the springtime. Since plant maturity took a full season, there was no way to replant or recover. All that could be done was to rely on the sale of cattle, sale of milk and the small profit from the sale of eggs. Those years my dad would fall into a depression of sorts.
And there were some heavy decisions regarding the farm; again the weather played a part in the final analysis. A diligent farmer would agonize over when to cut the hay, when to harvest the crops, or when to sell some of the cattle or hogs. In the fall, the decision needed to be made regarding the sale of grain; how much would the cattle and chickens need? Of course, a small amount would be set aside for planting the next spring.
However, when the weather was fully cooperative, the fields were lush and a wonder to behold. The grain would ripen to resplendent golden glory with the warm sun and soft rains. The corn grew tall with multiple tassels waving in the soft breeze. Those years brought the farmers together to enjoy some friendly times. We could hear their laughter into the evening hours on the rare occasions the neighbors enjoyed a game of "500". Some would bring their children along to play with us and we could smell the comforting aroma of coffee heating on the stove, which meant we would be treated with a cookie or piece of cake when the lunch break was served. Those were special, happy times.
But the good years did not mean more clothes or "things" for us. The profit was used to buy or repair machinery or purchase another cow, pig or horse. On the years we needed new winter coats (which was an item of clothing my mom did not sew), my dad would buy orphan lambs -- one for each of us. We, in turn, were then responsible for bottle feeding those babies until they were weaned. When they were ready to shear, my dad would sell them and the profit purchased our coats. One year my coat was blue with brass buttons. Another year, it was dark green with beige buttons.
When dad came in at the end of the day with milking completed and the animals taken care of, he would go to his rocker (I still have that chair in my home) in the corner of the dining room in front of the battery operated radio. There he would sit, listening to the news and reading the local daily newspaper. It was his "rest" time and we found it best not to disturb him then. But I do remember when I was allowed, on occasion, to sit on his lap.
Yes, those farmers worked hard; they survived.
Laura W. Berglund
Copyright, February 2019
Laura Berglund is a former Afton area resident who writes post-depression stories of her childhood living in rural southern Minnesota. Her husband, Harold, (other than two years in the Army), has spent his entire life in the St. Croix Valley/Afton area, never more than 12 miles from his birthplace.