My Mother, the Farmer’s Wife

The Southern Berks News - - MOTHER’S DAY - Ca­role Christman Koch Wel­come To My World

My mother was 43 years old when I was born. By then she had borne 10 chil­dren (the first hav­ing died in in­fancy) — all at home on the farm. As I grew up, I al­ways felt Mom was clos­est to her fa­ther, a farmer him­self, es­pe­cially af­ter find­ing only one photo of her and her fa­ther taken at a stu­dio when she was around 12 years old, the baby in a fam­ily of seven. Mom’s fa­ther be­lieved in ed­u­cat­ing his chil­dren and they be­came teach­ers. Mom re­fused a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, but worked as a house­keeper af­ter her grad­u­a­tion from high school.

It wasn’t un­til I be­came 43 that I started ask­ing Mom ques­tions, the nights it was my turn, as a sib­ling, to help care for Pop af­ter his stroke. Mom met Pop at a church so­cial af­ter he and his twin brother re­turned safely from WWI, Pop hav­ing re­ceived the Pur­ple Heart. The young cou­ple fell in love and planned to get mar­ried. This is when she told Pop, who was work­ing in a mill, “I want to be a farmer’s wife.” I guess he couldn’t help him­self as he gazed into her sparkling blue eyes. He hired him­self out on her brother, the teacher/farmer’s farm, to learn the trade. And that is how my mother be­came the farmer’s wife.

Although I was the youngest, I grew up, al­beit a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with Mom as a teen, I did know she loved her cho­sen ca­reer. She took ev­ery­thing in stride from bak­ing, cook­ing, gar­den­ing, can­ning, and butcher­ing — all this in be­tween tend­ing to her chil­dren. And she didn’t wait for Pop to come home when a horse fell through the sec­ond floor of the barn.

She got a rope and tied the feet and tried to pull the horse up, but to no avail. The horse died in a few days.

As the baby in the fam­ily, I had more ma­te­rial things then the older sib­lings, but, I prob­a­bly didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate it. My sis­ter, Anita, told me, “We didn’t’ have much money but I never felt poor. Mom was the first to give up some­thing so we could have more. I re­call on walks to church I could see Mom’s feet bleed be­cause the shoes given to her were too tight.”

I ad­mit I ap­pre­ci­ated Mom more as an adult and rais­ing my own chil­dren. I know Pop had to be care­ful with the money, not know­ing if the crops would bring in an in­come each year. As a kid, I con­sid­ered him stingy. It was also in the 40s and 50s that some men be­lieved they were in charge of the money. That didn’t de­ter Mom from earn­ing her own. She never learned to drive a car, but she did know how to “catch” the bus at the end of the lane. She went into the city and found a job clean­ing for some­one. On this jaunt she’d some­times shop for me. As a teen, I was sur­prised she had good taste. Yet, I won­der if I thanked her.

Mom also earned money butcher­ing chick­ens and ducks and sell­ing them. I don’t know how long she saved but one summer she an­nounced, “Pop, we’re go­ing to visit Lester (a brother) and his wife, Ruth, in Florida. I have enough money saved for both gas and a mo­tel. I’ll pack the food and wa­ter. “I think Pop was so flab­ber­gasted that Mom could save so much, that he ac­tu­ally re­lented and they, with four of the kids, trav­eled to Florida.

At some point, Mom gave up clean­ing houses in the city and got a job cook­ing for a restau­rant in town. I of­ten walked over to her work place, af­ter school, to wait for Pop to pick us up. He al­ways grum­bled about hav­ing to leave his work.

I can’t for­get the board­ers that rented rooms. I didn’t like it at all as I had to share the up­stairs bath­room with them. One time it was a man. An­other time an old lady, who I think was in the early stages of mem­ory loss, and com­plained daily to Mom that I stole her hair­brush.

There were also the fam­ily board­ers for the fes­ti­val in town. Mom loved peo­ple and many fam­i­lies stayed in what we called “the old kitchen” in the back part of the house. Again we had to share a bath­room. But at this time, Pop had a toi­let in­stalled in the pantry area. Mom raised peafowl and not one of her board­ers left with­out pea­cock feath­ers, mom’s pride and joy.

Mom wasn’t just friendly to board­ers from the fes­ti­val. She’d of­ten have my “spur of the minute” friends come home with me af­ter school. She never scolded, just fed them and left them sleep over. Our large farm­house was al­ways a party place for our church youth pro­grams,. Mom helped us make the home into a haunted place with neat ideas of her own. Other times our kitchen ta­ble held ping pong games, while French fries were our treat.

We kids didn’t mind so much when Mom was good to our friends, but ev­ery Sun­day, no mat­ter who stopped to visit Mom would say, “You’ll be stay­ing for sup­per, won’t you?” We’d cringe know­ing we’d have all those ex­tra dishes to do. Mom al­ways did the cook­ing.

An­other thing, us kids didn’t like, was that Mom was al­ways try­ing to make things look nicer out­side. She was done rais­ing chick­ens, on the piece of land near the house, that had the small pond. She got the idea that the area should be cleaned up for fam­ily pic­nics. It’s not that she wasn’t out there with us pulling and tug­ging weeds like us, we just felt our yard was enough yard.

Even across the street in front of the house was a bit of a knoll that she liked for it to look nice and grassy. Some­times she had a goat tied to a tree to eat the high grass. She even­tu­ally got it down to her spec­i­fi­ca­tions and we could mow the area.

Grow­ing up, I vowed I’d never marry a farmer. I never did. I felt farm life was noth­ing but work, work, and more work. And then, when I was about 25 years old, mar­ried and chil­dren, some­thing changed. I was in a store when some­one I knew came to me, “Ca­role, do you know your barn (Pop had sold the farm and built a new home in town by then) was hit by light­ing just now and is on fire?” Since I wasn’t but a few miles from the farm I drove there. The po­lice wouldn’t’ al­low me to drive down the lane, but they did let me walk. As I headed closer, I saw the barn in flames and burst into tears. It was then and there I re­al­ized how im­por­tant my farm life had been — work and all.

There is only one woman I can thank for my farm mem­o­ries and that is my mother, the farmer’s wife.

Mary Kohler Christman

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