The first woman farm writer to share her life with our family via the pages of her wonderful books was Patricia Penton Leimbach. Her talent for making farm life fascinating made End O' Way Farm come alive for us as if it was right down the road rather than way out in Ohio. I was lucky enough to "meet" Pat when I was a mother of toddlers, wildly frustrated by staying at the house when I wanted to be in the barn or on the tractor.
My beloved farm aunt loaned me "A Thread of Blue Denim" and I was instantly hooked. I found a way to read, and later own, all of the wonderful collections of her columns, which spanned 38 years. She could make the most mundane of farm affairs hilarious and paint ordinary days in colors so brilliant that they left a lasting impression even decades later. I never see a pair of blue jeans fading on the clothesline without remembering her essay on how they got that way, polishing tractor seats, ripped on barbed wire, and worn in sun and rain and snow. Whether it was laughing about how fussy men are about planting straight rows to keep the neighbors from gossiping, or crying over the loss of one of her sons in a traffic accident, Pat seemed like a neighbor just down the highway. I still read her books every couple of years and enjoy them all over again.
I once dropped her a note, sharing my love of her writing and frustrations with being cut off from field and farm. She was kind enough to write back, several times, with gentle advice and pointed humor. She told me of how she turned a hay wagon into a traveling playpen and playground for her children so she could take them wherever she worked on the farm. Her encouragement is one of the factors that got me started on this whole writing thing and indeed it has been a great satisfaction in my life. I am most thankful to her for pointing me in this direction.
Today, most of the farm and ranch women writers that I "meet" are folks on the Internet, which is so very much speedier and easier than sending a letter to a publisher and hoping they will forward it to an author you like ... maybe, some day, when and if they get around to it. I have farm friends from Colorado to Alberta to Ohio and dozens of places in between, all fine writers on rural life and its blend of joy, humor and sudden tragedy. They are a wonderful lot of folks.
In fact just the other day, our good friend Serendipity stepped up to the plate with a delightful surprise for us. I was finishing breakfast, chores done, another Monday full of bookkeeping and such miseries looming grimly, when I saw a person in the yard beside the house. I hustled outside to see what was up.
A lovely lady introduced herself as a reader of Northview Diary, my daily online journal of life on the farm, with adjoining birds, and photographs. She was visiting New York from her home in Arizona, as she had grown up on a dairy farm on the Hudson. She said, "I wanted to give you a copy of my book," and hurried to her car to get it for me.
Despite the utter lack of recent housekeeping demonstrated by our domicile I invited her to step into our lair and she bravely accepted.
Soon she and the boss were talking purebred Holstein cattle like they had been friends for decades. There are no strangers in the dairy business, especially when it comes to the pedigreed cows.
Serendipity trotted up to bat again as we discovered that a bull the boss bought long ago (before my time even) -- Willow-Terrace Bootmaker Proud -- was the son of one of her father's cows. Her family also developed the well-known '60s bull, Citation R Maple, a popular red carrier whose influence figures in many pedigrees of today. We have always liked him and, with the boss's fondness for mixing older genetics with modern bloodlines, I just happen to have an R Maple right now, in the yard beside the driveway. Her name is Betty and she is a daughter of a cow that goes back to Mansion-Valley Delaware.
The visit was a pure delight.
After evening chores I sat down in my Sunday chair to have a look inside THE BOOK. Yes, it deserves capital letters, for it was a very talented and insightful writer who happened upon our doorstep early last week.
Reading Lorraine K. Vail's "From Any Window" was like stepping out of my life, but not too far, and living another one. The vivid story takes place on a family dairy farm in the Willamette Valley and begins with the nightmare of a barn fire, something Ms. Vail experienced when she was younger. The pain and shock of the loss of beloved animals came through as clearly as if they were our own. You could substitute Lassiebell, the first Jersey calf of the protagonist's young daughter, for any number of much-loved animals that have graced the stalls of our own barn.
I had to read in small if eager installments. The book was so rich and bright and intense that I needed to step back into my own world in between chapters. Still, it was much too quickly finished.
Whether you are a farmer, a farm wife, or perhaps the closest you have been to a dairy cow is to walk past the dairy barn at the fair pinching your nostrils shut in self defense, I think you would like this book. Complex yet spare, bright but dark, joyful, yet painful, it is a good one.
It was exciting to meet Ms. Vail, and a very meaningful experience to read her book. I eagerly await her future efforts and I sure am glad she stopped by to visit.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs