Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Barn Came First

I was startled the other day, after I showed some friends photos of our family barn burning to the ground, when my husband reminded me we hadn't lived there for years, and didn't own it any more. The implication was that I had no business being upset by the loss of the old building. Logically, that's right, and in fact I am a little surprised that the fire was so traumatic. After all, I remember clearly an incident from junior high. I was asleep in my flannel night gown, prickly brush curlers in my hair, when Dad woke the whole family to pull on boots and get the heifers out of the young corn field. After chasing around the field for about an hour in the dark I announced aloud that I would never marry a farmer. I didn't, either. But that doesn't mean I don't miss the farm.

My college roommate, Cathy, was more sensitive. She's originally from Boscobel, a small Wisconsin town out in the western part of the state, where valleys are called coulees, apple orchards dot the landscape and where it is possible to buy artisan cheese direct from small factories. Her suggestion was to read a little book called
The Barn Came First, by Pearl Swiggum. Bookworld couldn't find it, and it isn't carried by Amazon, but our library had two copies, both signed by the author. Yeah for the library!

From the inside cover: Pearl Swiggum's first book was
Stump Ridge Farm, published in 1990.

Pearl was born in 1914 in the village of Towerville, Wis. Her parents, Sigurd and Goldie Stevenson, had a large family and ran a general store there. She married Tillman "Punk" Swiggum in 1934 and they had three children. In 1958 she began writing a column for the local newspaper, chronicling her experiences growing up and running a dairy farm for many years. This book is a compilation of many of those columns.

I knew Swiggum from her columns that ran in the
Wisconsin State Journal for many years, until she at last retired. I see that she will be 94 on March 24, and I intend to send her a card congratulating her on longevity and thanking her for all her insight and humor. The following brief selections are from the book.

I have a most delightful dictionary. None of the last dozen words I have looked up are in it but I never close it dissatisfied. To give you a for instance, "nostalgia" was not in it but near where it should have been was "note" as in music. And in the text was an illustration. There was a note with four little squiggles hanging from it like flags in a slight breeze and it was called a hemidemisemiquaver. I defy you to call that dictionary search wasted. Now I know waht fat opera singers were doing when we kids thought someone was behind them patting them on the backside to make their voices quiver as they sang mightily. Hemidemisemiquavering is what they were doing.

Words have different meanings to different people. To a farmer the word "danger" means walking behind a coughing cow.

As spring weather goes March is a breach of promise, April a tentative proposal, May a vow kept, at least as well as most.

Time, my dears, will erase painful memories of that mistake you just made. So will the next m

"Fixed Focus"
Getting used to bifocals
Is hard as the devil.
The world has become
Like the fashion in houses

I heard a man talking about his wife's ambitious nature. He said, "She goes at cleaning house like she's killing snakes."

The most important things that old people should do - stay as well as we can and have as much fun as we can.

Funny how...
greeting cards say exactly what you want to and sometimes better,
frogs and caterpillars are never satisfied with where they live and must cross the road - right to left or left to right,
how much longer it takes flower seeds to push through the ground and get down to the growing business than weeds and even vegetable seeds,
how the last sigh of my coffee percolator sounds like a young mother who has finally gotten her boisterous babies to sleep.

1 comment:

Rayne said...

Hemidemisemiquavering - What a wonderful word, and I love the she shared it with every one.
I understand why you would be upset about the barn burning down. It's a part of your past, your childhood, your life and now it's gone.
When the house that I grew up in was threatened by a flood from a damn bursting up river I waited anxiously to see if it would make it. I hadn't lived in that house for 20 years, but I still didn't want to see it destroyed.