Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s

By Virginia Johnson

A WWI veteran with a young family, Ira bought a sixty-acre farm in the rural community of Harlan Michigan just ninety days before the October 1929 stock market crash and its ensuing financial crisis.

He fashioned a living with a team of horses and a never-give-up work ethic on land his wife often called “sand banks” when a harvest failed. This memoir covers a thirty-year span of farming through the eyes of Ira’s daughter who went from a bare-footed carefree girl to a “hired hand” when her older brother joined the Navy in 1942. She drove horses, hauled hay, picked up stones, bagged milkweed pods and a myriad of other tasks. For senior citizens it may bring back childhood memories. Young readers will perhaps experience a tinge of fantasy or a scene from TV’s Walton family. An easy read about rural farm life in the thirties and forties.

You can buy my book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s on Amazon.

Whatever Happened to the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog?

Ah, how I miss that Sears & Roebuck Winter catalog when November rolls around! It was the one time of year if I just happened to show my mom a doll I really liked, or the black shiny shoes with the neat silver bow attached, then I might, just might, find it in one of the Christmas packages I opened. Wonderful toys and dresses filled page after page in that thick book. Each tissue-thin leaf jam-packed with photos of everything a family could want.

Well, almost everything…There was no book section. Oh, there were so many good books on shelves in book stores and libraries. Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Girl of the Limberlost – the choices were endless. But none could I order from the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

And so, I am set to wondering if those really were the good ol’ days when we waited each day for the mailman to finally deliver our mail order ‘shopping cart’.  Have you ordered anything recently from a shopping cart? Of course you have if you own one of the sleek modern black catalogs called computers, or its miniature version known as an ipad or tablet. Or even more convenient, the smartphone that goes everywhere with you, has automatic wi-fi. A compact little device that stores more information, including choices of dolls and toys, AND books than the average person could explore in his or her lifetime.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between today’s mail-order shopping cart and the leafy Sears catalog would be the time element for delivery. Next-day delivery is almost the norm. It took days for the little brown envelope complete with check and the hand-written items to reach Sears in Chicago, more time to hand-sort and package the items and then for the parcel to reach the same mailbox where the little brown envelope began its journey.

And so it’s November once again. Shopping season for those special people, including the ‘one who has everything’. Well, if you have a senior citizen friend or relative who may have grown up on a farm, I’d like to suggest my recent book called Ira’s Farm. And I have a very real reason for suggesting it. Since I published it in April 2018, I have given a number of presentations to groups of retirees and groups living in senior independent villages. The responses I receive are so heartening to me. I hear comments like “the memories brought tears to my eyes”, “I had a good laugh as I remembered the same events happening on our farm”. I really believe that the joy many received as they relived good memories brought a kind of healing to them and lifted their spirits with joy amid the problems many were facing. Smiles and precious memories keep hearts young.

I will always write a personal note when I sign a book. I keep copies on hand to fill orders for autographed copies. In other sections of my blog page, there are descriptions about “Ira’s Farm” and I am always available to answer questions through email, blog or IM on facebook.

May your holidays be filled with joy and “laugh out loud” moments. Hold tight to the wonderful gift of family that you have been given.  Sincerely, Ginny

 

 

The Fodder’s in the Shock

James Whitcomb Riley wrapped up a busy summer season succinctly with his poem When the Frost is on the Punkin and the fodder’s in the shock. Yes, it is the time of year when the local farmers can draw a sigh of relief as their fifteen-hour days slow down to perhaps a mere ten-hour day and they can have a second cup of coffee in the morning before heading off to the barn. I’m not sure, though if today’s crop growers can relate to ‘the fodder’s in the shock’. But, my dad could, because he put that fodder into shocks and I knew what it was because I watched him grab those bundles and shock them. Dried stalks of corn bunched together, tied with binder twine, produced those Norman Rockwell scenes of snow on the ground and dried shocks standing as sentinels in many a field. They were, I must admit, quite picturesque, but the raw aching muscles at the end of harvest probably dimmed the thought of capturing it on film to many a farmer. Rather, his satisfaction most likely centered on the fodder (those corn ears and stalks) that would feed his animals through the long winter ahead in his section of the upper Midwest farming country. But poets are licensed to describe the beauty of the world around us. And thank goodness, they still do.

Of late, I find myself among those who are singing the praises for local farmers who work those same fifteen-hour days to produce organic vegetables and fruit, then bring it fresh from their land to local markets and roadside stands for the local population. Packed full of nutrition with every bite and devoid of chemical absorption. Perhaps there are some around who could give poetic justice to these dedicated farmers in James Whitcomb Riley fashion? When the frost is on the punkin.

 Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I am a Clipper

My mind seems to be churning with so many random thoughts, so I guess I’ll open another page and let the thoughts go where they will. I am a clipper – no, I don’t clip recipes or fashion notes – I cut out articles from newspapers and magazines about small farms, organic gardening, Farm-to-Table projects, Diane Connors “ten cents a meal” program. I pick up freebie papers wherever I travel, scanning those pages for interesting people or events. Finally, last week, I looked at the heap I had accumulated and organized file folders in one of those portable lightweight, cardboard accordion files that can serve as a temporary briefcase. Here are the file names: Compost information, Farm activities for children, CSAs and Small Farms in Traverse City area, Ten cents a meal, Invasive Species, Milkweeds & Monarch butterflies, and Misc.

In addition, I have a notebook of small farm success stories preserved in plastic sheet holders. Oh, the history that lies unfolded behind each farmer’s efforts.

A quote from “Ira’s Farm” Pg 54: “To create a self-sustaining farm operation would depend on how he (my dad) cared for the soil—that warm earth womb that nourishes and brings life to dried brown seeds and brittle kernels of corn. His harvest would depend on how he prepared the ground that beds fields of rye and strengthens the deep roots of alfalfa. Those fields would be the key to Dad’s future.”

Don’t forget to dig around in the dirt today – let the sweet, rich soil slip through your fingers. Protect it. The greening of the earth lies therein!

My Story

Each of us have a story to tell. We tell them around campfires, to our grandkids at bedtime, over coffee with a good friend. And some of us compile memories line by line, page after page until a book is born. In March of 2018, some eight months ago, I gingerly opened a box from IngramSpark Publishing and caught my first glimpse of “Ira’s Farm” with those vibrant-red polished apples shining on the cover and the author identified as Virginia Johnson. At 87 years old, I had “told” my story.

It no longer belonged to just myself or my grandkids – it was on Amazon and local bookstores for anyone to pick up and read. And form opinions. And express them!

I will try to be honest about the responses I have gotten about these 1930’s farming years, but the positive comments have been almost overwhelming to me and it’s difficult to be nonchalant about them! Thank you, kind readers, for your feedback. It is fine compensation for those days and days of sitting at the computer and the nights I would wake up with a new word or sentence I needed to include on the pages I had just finished.

Overall, it has been a grand experience and I recommend it to each of you.

But what is next?

You can buy my book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s on Amazon.

Book Review by Tom Powers

Below is an excerpt from Tom Powers’ book review from his blog at https://michiganinbooks.blogspot.com/

 

This short and evocative memoir of life on a small Michigan farm between the wars is a valuable addition to a little known or written about era in Michigan history. I found it not only pleasant reading but filled with surprises. For instance, it wasn’t until 1939 that the first piece of plastic found it’s way into Virginia’s home and it was in the form of a toothbrush. Or, that milkweed became important to the war effort when it was discovered milkweed pods could be used in floatation vests. Children across Michigan would take empty sacks into the fields, collect the pods, and get paid for the amount they bagged.

This is Michigan history as lived by its everyday citizens. It deserves consideration as a Michigan Notable Book, should be required reading in Michigan history classes and is even suitable for reading to upper elementary students who might wonder if life was even liveable without smartphones, the Internet, TV, and the social network, let alone indoor plumbing and electricity.