By Marji Smock Stewart, from Climbing the Hills and Finding the Rivers. This continues her story on from Just the Three of Us.
The weather New Year’s day in 1960 was mild and balmy. Almost weirdly warm. It was a good day for moving into our Ohio County farmhouse. I had rounded up furniture from both our folks’ attics and bought new appliances to be delivered after the move. My parents helped us move.
Bill’s dad was opposed to the farm purchase. He almost cried. Robert thought farm work was physically too hard for a guy starting out at age 45. He also thought Bill was mentally capable of much more challenging work.
As it turned out, Robert and Mabel both loved the farm and enjoyed many a pleasant day there in the years to come. Robert especially loved the cattle. Nine and one half years later when we sold it, Robert was unhappy again. He wanted us to keep it. It was all he had dreamed of having when he was young. They and Bill’s sister Lillian were jewels, the best grandparents and in-laws a person could have.
With the help of Duke’s store in Dundee, we began remodeling. We had a bathroom installed on the main floor and, in the basement for the guys, a shower. Storage areas and desks were built in upstairs in our son’s room and the guest bedroom which doubled as my sewing area. Hardwood floors were refinished. A deep water well was drilled.
My California city kid and I refinished furniture, partly to keep us warm! We braided wool rugs for the floors and learned the fine points of country living. These and our camping experiences provided better learning than any Boy Scout troop could muster. We cleaned and burnished a heavy antique brass bed until it shone like gold. Mother later made a “wedding ring” quilt for that beautiful bed. He now has the quilt but, sadly, the bed was auctioned when we sold the farm in 1969.
Installation of a coal furnace was completed in mid-March. Immediately. the balmy weather changed radically. About March 16th we had a record snowfall. Bill couldn’t even get down our lane in a tractor for three weeks. Schools were closed at least that long. The snow was pristine and beautiful. But, better yet, our farm home now had furnace heat and indoor plumbing.
What more could we want?
Sometime that spring, Daddy told us about a place in Indiana that raised English sheep dogs. So we drove over there and chose two pups. We gave them the oh so original names of Jack and Jill. Outdoor dogs, but part of the family.
A horse rounded out our boy’s wish list. Melody was a Tennessee Walker. We didn’t know that, or what it meant. We just wanted a nice quiet horse who would teach him to ride. She did that and they became inseparable. Then one day our neighbor, a knowledgeable horseman, came for a visit. He saddled Melody up and together they showed us her full range of gaits.
In early May, the Ohio County Extension Agent made a visit to help Bill evaluate and plan for future farming needs. Naturally I invited him for lunch – a simple meal of beans, cornbread and the usual. Mr. Ridley was very friendly and asked a lot of questions of me. He seemed quite interested to learn I had a degree in Home Economics.
Farm and school
Out of the blue the following day, I received a call from the County Superintendent of Schools asking about my credentials and background. He asked if I would meet with some of the local board members regarding a teaching position in Fordsville High School.
I was enjoying my role as country homemaker but, by now, Bill and I were aware that farming required much more money than we could ever have to spend. The main drawback was that I did not have a teaching certificate. This meant that, if I accepted, I would have to spend eight weeks doing student teaching under Agnes Foster in Hartford. I also would have to pay for my substitute in Fordsville and do double bus duty and lesson plans for both schools. Bill and I discussed the situation and decided to accept the offer.
Thus the real merry-go-round began in July 1960. My first monthly paycheck was net $215.27. I still have the yellowed stub. I probably spent nearly 12 hours a day either in class or preparation for, or duties connected with, teaching. Mathematically, this averaged less than one dollar per hour! But this was not uncommon; teachers were quite dedicated.
The ten month teaching schedule was followed by three summers at university in Lexington, earning my MS in 1963. I taught in the secondary schools and supervised student teachers for Western Kentucky State University until the summer of 1966. It was then I left my family on the farm and drove over six hours to Columbus OH for nine quarters of full-time study at the Ohio State University for a PhD in Aug 1968.
What began in the spring of 1960 with the casual visit of the County Agent never stopped until I left the University of Kentucky over 22 years later [as Dean of the College of Home Economics]. I do regret that I was gone so much. I was so mentally or physically involved with work, or distracted by it, most of the time that I didn’t take time to be more involved with my son, Bill and our other family.
I often wondered what if…? What if I hadn’t invited Mr. Ridley to share lunch? If I hadn’t accepted that offer and instead remained on the farm, churning butter, planting gardens and joining the local Homemakers Club as my mother did in Daviess County? What if I had never gone on to earn further degrees? What if we were still on the Ohio County farm?
Our son grew up and went to the University of Kentucky. For two summers, he worked as a deckhand on riverboats. Secretly I hoped he might follow the family river tradition. But it was the time of the Vietnam War. He followed his conscience and went to Canada. Looking back, I would not change this but I wish things had been different for him – for all of us.
It still amazes me all the talents my son has, and that so many of the things he learned on the farm he still practices. I’m sure he has a different take on the farm years and those that followed. That’s ok, this narrative is through our eyes.
Next time, the conclusion of Marji and Bill’s story, the years after the farm.