As a Farm Woman Thinks: Life and Land on the Llano Estacado, 1890-1960
by Nellie Witt Spikes, ed. Geoff Cunfer


Texas Tech University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-896-72710-6. Posted on 09/21/2010

Excerpt from As a Farm Woman Thinks

This delightful and informative excerpt is typical of many of Spikes' newspaper pieces dealing with food. It is rich in the everyday details that she was always careful to include. Like many of her pieces, it also involves a strong contrast—in this case, the imagined life of a "city wife" who has access to a telephone, a well-supplied grocery, and a grocer who is willing to deliver. There are no details of physical labor, and implicit in the description is Spikes' belief that the modern urban woman is no longer in touch with the sources and production of food and has not quite earned the praise that is heaped upon her for a dinner "fit for the Gods." This distance from food sources is an issue that engages many people today, at a time when industrial agriculture and the food industry have made it unnecessary to do much more than open a can or microwave a frozen dish and when many people do not know how to cook.

In contrast, the detailed story of the country wife's physical labor is clearly built upon Spikes' own hands-on experience of producing her family's food. But the recitation also includes brief reflections on the sad but obligatory fate of the pet chicken, the hard work of planting the seeds that produced the day's food, the pleasure of an oil stove (as opposed to coal and kindling), the ease of churning butter with an egg beater (rather than a wooden churn and dasher), and the tongue-in-cheek humor of "running water." Spikes often nostalgically idealizes farm life and the "old days," but she also has a strongly realistic sense of the work required to live on the land, without the conveniences that were beginning to change the lives of women who lived in the nearby towns. —Susan Wittig Albert


"As a Farm Woman Thinks"
June 10, 1937

"Eleven o'clock," exclaims the city wife, as she reaches for the telephone. "I must hurry, my husband will be here at twelve." "Can you bring some groceries right up?" she asks her grocer. "Then please send me one can English peas, loaf of bread, two pounds new potatoes, one pound butter, one head lettuce, bunch of radishes, one can lard, one box strawberries, one box prepared shortcakes, one pint whipping cream, one dressed chicken." The woman gets her order. Dinner is started. The telephone rings. The baby runs into the street, has to be brought back, is given some toys, but when Mr. Husband gets in, there is a dinner fit for the Gods on the table. Words of appreciation bring a glow to the face of Mrs. City-wife.

"Nine o'clock" says Mrs. Country-wife. "I must begin my preparation for dinner." She hurries to the chicken yard, catches a fat fryer, off comes his head. The eyes of the chicken look reproachfully at the woman as the head lies separated from the body. "It is too bad," sighs the woman, as she thinks of the many times she has fed and cared for the chickens. They are more like pets. The chicken is dressed, put in a pan of cool salted water. Mrs. C then goes to the garden, hoes a row of beans—then gathers her vegetables for dinner. New potatoes are dug, how easy the tender jacket comes off with scraping. Tender lettuce, crisp radishes are gathered and washed. A basket of English peas. What a nice sound is made as the peas rub together in the basket. The fat little peas jump from the hull as the skilled fingers break their prisons open. The woman thinks of the hard work, most of it done in the heat of the day after the morning work was done and before the chores of the evening began. The men have been too busy in the field to help with the garden. The strawberries, what a pleasure to gather them. The cows are up for water, are turned in. What a long time it takes them to fill their water tanks. An old hen and her chickens are scratching up a flower bed. The woman flaps her apron and shoos at them. An old turkey hen with her twenty babies have to be driven off to where they can catch bugs.

Ten-thirty, eleven. Time to get the dinner on. The oil tanks is filled. Easier than bringing in coal and kindling. The lard bucket is empty—a trip to the cellar for more. The woman remembers the cold day the lard was rendered. A bucket of fresh water has to be carried from the well. "Running water in the house," laughs the woman, "but I do the running— after it." Butter has to be churned. Easier though than the old churn and dash method. Thick separated cream is soon golden butter, when beaten with an egg beater. The shortcake dough is made, cooked, the luscious shortcake is a mound of snow covered with red berries. A pan of brown biscuit, another of cornbread (the cornbread is mainly for supper). The chicken fries a golden brown. Peas and potatoes lie in their blanket of white sauce. The men are washing up for dinner. Long hours they have worked. Dinner is eaten with such keen relish: the woman needs no other praise.

Read Susan Albert's review of As a Farm Woman Thinks for StoryCircleBookReviews.org.

       
   
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