Behind Every Farmer is a Farmer's Wife
My grandfather always wanted to be a farmer. I remember him telling us stories of his dreams as a young boy of having his own land and setting up his own produce operation. He didn’t have anything to start with but I guess that is how all family businesses get started - with nothing but a dream. However, until I got demoted to strawberry picking duty with my grandma, I hadn’t ever thought about her role in my grandfather’s dream.
If anyone has ever picked strawberries, they know it is not the most exhilarating job. Nonetheless, I was determined to keep a positive attitude and thought it would actually be fun to spend some time with my grandma. It’s a funny thing really. She is always “around,” so I feel like I see her a lot and know her well, but as we began to chat in that berry field, I discovered that I actually knew very little about her life. Of course I knew the basic details, but I was struck at how I had never taken the time to ask her more questions. So, in that hot field, with the sun blazing down on our backs, I thought I would start asking some questions.
My grandmother, Joyce Masser, has been working on our family farm for over 47 years. She is now seventy years old and has barely slowed down. She is still the fastest, yet most efficient, strawberry picker. She still runs the pick out line on the potato packer. She still helps prune the apple trees. Regardless of everything she does, I guess I have always taken her involvement on the farm for granted, and before this past summer, I had never once asked my grandmother about her dreams or aspirations.
Even though my family is from a rural area we still have an area that we call “town.” If you looked up the definition we probably wouldn’t have enough houses in a row to justify calling it that, but nevertheless everyone knows the couple houses lined up around the grocery store and the high school as “town.” My grandmother was one of the few people who grew up in town. She didn’t live near the corn fields or apple trees, and she certainly didn’t grow up driving a tractor. When I asked her what she had wanted to be when she graduated she said a secretary. “I know it doesn’t seem like much today but there weren’t as many options back then,” said Joyce. “It always looked sort of glamorous in the pictures (which is what she calls movies) so that is what I thought I wanted to do,” she said. But my grandmother never became a secretary. Instead she fell in love with my grandpa and they got married in 1961, a year after they graduated high school. Joyce said, “Before I married your grandfather, I never thought I was going to be a farmer.”
Joyce also described her parents’ reaction. “They didn’t hate the idea, but they didn’t love it either,” said Joyce. “They thought I worked too hard. I think that was the root of it all,” she said. My great grandmother did a lot of babysitting when I was younger and I remember her well so this reaction came as no surprise to me. My great grandparents were loving people but they also had the idea that girls should not get dirty. I can recall a couple occasions where my great grandmother almost fainted because I had returned with my two older brothers covered in filth and probably holding some sort of wild creature we had found. “Oh du gut (which is Pennsylvania Dutch for oh my goodness) Clyde, would you look at how dirty she is,” she would always say.
Like it or not, my grandmother left town and moved over to “the valley” so that her and my grandfather could start the farm. However, as anyone in the agricultural industry knows, it isn’t always easy being a farmer. “I like being a farmer most of the time,” said Joyce. “I can’t say it has always been easy, but there are parts of it that I have grown to love,” she said. That was something that I found to be truly amazing. It is one thing to have your own dream and fight for it, but it something entirely different to follow someone else’s dream. My grandmother never dreamed of being a farmer’s wife, but her silent role in the background has become just as important as my grandfather’s role of planting and harvesting.
That is when it hit me that we often forget those women who never aspired to be farmers’ wives, but stepped up to the challenge regardless of the difficulties that they face. Few other women wait until dark to make dinner because they know their husbands will use every minute of daylight. There aren’t many other women that forego long vacations or holidays because they know their husband can’t be away from the farm that long. While their sacrifices may not be as apparent as their husbands, it is evident that they sometimes sacrifice their own dreams in order to follow their farmer into the dusty sunset. My grandmother doesn’t ask for much, she is often quiet and keeps to herself, but that does not excuse me never thinking of her feelings or how she got to be a farmer.
As a woman that never sits and is always walking around looking for something to do, I had to chuckle when she said, “I guess if today I could do anything, other than be a farmer, I would be retired! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m tired.” However, I know my grandma too well to know that she will never really sit still. Being a farmer has become part of who she is and that means she doesn’t believe in having idle hands. If nothing else, I’m sure she will always do the mowing till her very last day. One of my grandmother’s favorite things to do is mow the lawn. She has always said she will be first in line to do the mowing. “I find it relaxing and it doesn’t hurt my back so what’s not to love,” she said.
While my grandmother may not have aspired to be a farmer, she has certainly become a damn good one over the years. She works harder than a lot of people I know and she usually has a smile on her face while doing it. Today, she even thinks that more women should get involved in agriculture. Joyce said, “I think it is a good thing for women to get involved. Let’s face it; they are smarter than the boys so they need us just as much as we need them.”