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A tribute to a great farm womanPosted Wednesday, March 11, 2009, at 8:02 AM
This Friday, March 13, the 6th annual Women in Agriculture and Ag Landowners Regional Conference will be held in the Martin Community Center in Marshall.
As I think about "Women in Agriculture" (WIA) I realize that the role has changed a lot in the last 40 or so years.
Today, a WIA most likely has a job outside the home, which provides much, if not all of the family's living expense. It is a sign of the times, and farm families are not unlike most of today's families with working mothers and two-income households.
However, when people lament the loss of the "family farm." I often think that what they are really missing is the pioneer type WIA who was the original working wife and mother. Long before it was in style, the WIA was working "outside of the home." She was caring for the chickens, milking the cows, separating the cream, tending to the garden, canning the produce and helping her husband in the field. Just like today's WIA, she was providing the family's living expenses.
In the late 1960's and 1970's, when it became economically necessary and possible for women to get better paying jobs in town - with benefits, many of the family farm's chicken flocks, large gardens, orchards and milk cows disappeared along with the women who cared for them.
Now as that generation is getting older, we are losing for good those WIA and their stories.
Last week, we lost the matriarch of our family farm -- Frances Gorrell, who was truly a wonderful woman. She spent her life taking care of her three children, four grandchildren and being a helpmate to her farmer husband. Her goal in life was to be a good mother and wife -- and I can attest that she was a great success.
After graduating from Malta Bend High School, she spent a year or so working as a phone operator, before marrying Bill Gorrell at age 20. She immediately started caring for others, as the young couple moved in with his widowed father, three school-age siblings and a hired man on the farm east of Malta Bend.
Keeping with the times, the young couple saved enough money to buy a tractor and started a farm of their own near Fairville. She often told stories of caring for their two young children, feeding hogs, milking cows and caring for chickens along with helping her husband in the field.
Eventually the family ended back on the farm at Malta Bend, where they raised her two oldest children. Later the family lived in town with their youngest son, before they once again moved to the country, living on a farm near Napton.
It would be hard to guess through the years how many gallons of milk she separated, how many eggs she gathered, chickens she butchered, hogs or cattle she fed, pounds of vegetables or fruit she canned or froze; lunches she packed; meals she cooked; pies she baked; clothes she mended or sewed; quilts she made; tractor parts she retrieved; gates she opened; cattle she worked; children she watched; fields she worked; weeds she cut, boo-boos she kissed or stories she told through the years.
Her life wasn't an easy one at all, but she often made it look that way.
When her oldest son, David, died in Vietnam at age 20, she no doubt wanted to go with him. But as she often said, she had a 5-year-old boy who needed to see her smile, so through the tears she did.
I had never met anyone like her when I first came to her farm home some 28 years ago. I was immediately struck by her welcoming smile, easy manner, tanned face and strong arms. The smile, wit, and unconditional love was something I would soon learn was just part of who she was. The strong arms and tanned face I would learn came from her hard work on the farm. Her old time sayings, such as, "The barn buys the house, the house doesn't buy the barn," I hope I never forget.
When her farmer husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at age 57, she again faced it with strength and dignity. She moved back to town and cared for him as long as she physically could. After she made the difficult decision to put him in a nursing home, she went each day to feed him supper and oversee his care. On the handful of times she couldn't go, she sent her daughter. She more than lived up to the vows she had taken in 1946, "for better or for worse."
As she always did, she remained dedicated to the farm, and through the years helped in any way she could. In her later years, that meant helping us move from farm to farm and caring for our children while we were in the field. Although, she slowed down some, she still grew a small garden and tended to her rose bushes. She remained independent, caring for us, much more than we cared for her.
Three years ago, she had a stroke, which left her unable to care for herself -- or anyone else. She continued to be the strong WIA, she had always been, never complaining about her plight in life. As her mind healed, she was again interested in the farm, always asking questions and knowing what we were doing, although she was never to visit the farm again.
When I attend the Women in Agriculture conference this Friday, I will be thinking of my-mother-law and the millions of others like her. They are truly the foundations on which today's family farms have been built.
They are the original "Women in Agriculture."
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