Rural in the mind’s eye
There’s an awful lot of pride out here in the nation’s heartland.
Part of that comes from the fact that, in order to live in the heartland, you first have to have a lot of heart; and if you have a shred of work ethic to pair it with, then you’ll fit in without even being noticed. That’s just the way I think rural people are.
When I think of the word rural, it creates visual images. I think of the mailbox at the end of a farm driveway. I think of the noon-time meal of “dinner,” and the evening meal of “supper.” I see sweaty people stacking bales on a hay rack.
I think of a barn – and a basketball hoop in the hay mow; silos, grain bins and a yellow school bus coming down the road at 7 a.m. to pick up children who may have already been out to do their chores by then. I see row crops, a tire swing hanging from an old cottonwood tree and semi trucks on the county fairgrounds, backed up to the show arena on livestock sale day; 4-H and FFA kids of all ages showing their animals with heavy hearts and even through outright tears.
Yes, the rural life is a rich and layered one, indeed.
I did a very unofficial survey recently, asking other people what the word rural meant to them. Their answers were better than anything I could have come up with:
- Grandparents’ farms, with ponds to go fishing, and hearing the farm animals bellering and birds singing; neighbors pulling together to help each other out.
- Seeing God in all things that grow; rejoicing in having such a great place to rear children.
- Meeting a farmer driving an old tractor on the road (gravel flying behind it), and receiving the “official farmer’s wave” of the index finger being lifted from the steering wheel.
- The different colors of the fields throughout the seasons – the black of late winter/early spring; the green of spring and summer; the harvest-gold color of fall, and the white of winter, covering the ground like a blanket and once again, letting it rest.
- Little farming towns, large, old, wood barns; farmers who love what they do and teach the same love of the land and animals to their own children; the farmer’s hat; watching beautiful sunrises and sunsets over land filled with growing crops.
- Late-night suppers, close-knit relationships where neighbors are like extended family members; working hard and long hours, but having fun doing that work.
- The amazing feeling of accomplishment when finishing a field or raising livestock and knowing it will help feed America; a life that brings family and friends closer, and the special bond you have with people in small town communities; fair time and showing livestock with your friends, and missing the people from your hometown once you move away.
- Hard work; the quiet; and friends who understand what your life is like.
- Being in tune with nature; understanding the connection to the land that can’t be explained, but must be felt; sitting on the front porch and hearing the crickets and watching the stars.
- Being able to walk downtown (alone) at age 7, because everyone looked out for everyone; when the 6 o’clock whistle blew, you knew it was time to go home to eat supper; neighborhood baseball games, church potluck dinners, and baking Christmas goodies and taking them to elderly shut-ins.
- Cattle and sheep grazing on a hill (no confinements); a big white house with chickens and a couple of cows, and kids going to the barn to swing on the big rope inside so they can land in the straw below; a garden; clothes hanging on the line.
- A strong work ethic, determination to make a better life for all the people they care about; early mornings, late nights, working together; trusting your neighbors and not expecting payment for helping them; making do; home-cooked meals enjoyed as a family (sometimes at odd hours) on a daily basis; prayers, Sunday morning church service, and supporting childrens’ school activities; trusting that when you help your neighbors and friends, that they will be there to help you in your hour of need.
One grown-up “city kid” said she loved it when she visited her farm cousins on vacation when she was growing up because of how basic their lives were – from food, to work, to family.
And so I ask you, what does “rural” mean to you?
One of my Iowa respondents concluded, “Where else but in rural America would these things happen? Thank God we were born and raised in rural Iowa.”
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org