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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Soulmate, Myself:
The Perfect Mate

the Farmer's Wife and the Farmer



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During the 1950s, in the North Dakota farming community of my boyhood, friends and neighbors enjoyed and engaged in a most endearing custom.

On Sunday nights, not only would families visit with each other, make pilgrimage to another’s home, but would do so unannounced; that is, they would simply arrive, no invitation required, no calling ahead for permission or to signal intentions, no formalities of RSVP etiquette -- one simply showed up. It was an unwritten community rule that all houses on Sunday nights would be "open houses." And if, upon arrival, the chosen sought-for host happened not to be at home – doubtless, having availed him or herself of hospitality elsewhere – then, no matter, one would simply try another friend’s house. There was a long list of possibilities. Frequently, I would lobby for a family with kids to play with; cousins were always top priority.

We lived this way in our round-robin sweet conviviality. And it was very good – a neighborhood “open door” policy enshrining and codifying as “local manners” an easily accessible brotherhood and sisterhood of farmers.


Editor’s note: Many decades later, in my research of Summerland, I would discover, with interest, that, in certain respects, this is the way people live over there. No invitations necessary; when you feel like company, you just go. Is there another way to live?


An incident from that long-ago time presents itself for special consideration. I must have been only six years-old or so; it’s one of my earlier memories. I can see myself with mom and dad in the living room of a young diary farmer and his wife. I believe I recall the family surname and the general location of their farm, but we’ll forego that detail. There were no other kids in the house. I would take notice of this as I had no one to play with. Left to my own devices, I found myself taken by some activity on the living room floor, with the adults hovering overhead.

But there is reason why I remember this particular episode of neighborly concourse. I would bear witness to conversation quite shocking to my six year-old sensibilities; indeed, it would appear, to that of my parents, as well.


Editor's note: The mind plays tricks. In this ancient memory, I envision my parents laurelled with grey head, wise and severe, ripened by many years. But, at this early time, Dad, the old personification of German will, was just 29, and Mom, his bride, a mere 27. They were both still kids.


During the next 12 years, subsequent to this incident, the dairy farmer and his wife seemed to vanish, dropped out of sight, off the radar screen, of the Sunday-evening circuit. This is unfortunate; but I understand how it happened.

The general conversation that evening, I still recall, went something like this:

Dad: “How many cows do you milk these days?”

Dairy Farmer: “About 80.”

Dad: “That’s a big operation. That would be a lot of work.”

Dairy Farmer: “Yeah – that’s for sure. And it’s especially hard in January when it’s 20 below.”

Mom: (always relishing an opportunity to voice displeasure for the hard physical labor on the farm) “I know what you’re talking about. I really hate milking, but I’m out there day and night.”

Dairy Farmer: (sighing)

Dad: “With your big herd, at least there’re two of you; at least you can help each other.”

Dairy Farmer’s Wife: (now with particularly animated, even vehement, tone) “Oh, I never go out to the barn!”

(general silence, all of it awkward)

Dairy Farmer’s Wife: (perceiving herself to be on trial now, under the winnowing eye of neighborhood opinion, she defiantly, but not skillfully, doubles-down on her assertion) “I told him right from the start, before we got married, that I wasn’t going to milk any **** cows! That’s his work out there! I didn't marry him to milk cows!”

(more awkward silence)

Well... "I didn't marry him to milk cows!" Even at six years-old, I knew there was something very wrong here. Things being “wrong,” in such manner, was a new concept for me. Among the farm-families in my small world, regarding the common farm labor, I had known only cooperation, diligence, and self-sacrifice. It was the air you breathed; everybody had to work. Grumbling was allowed, no problem -- almost expected -- as long you showed up for milking with a frown. But this was different, and I knew it.

And I distinctly and clearly recall, even at age six, my internal astonished reaction to the truculent Farmer’s Wife:

“How can you not go out there to help him? How can you stay in this warm house when he’s out there when it’s so cold with all that work? Don’t you care about him? What’s wrong with you? You say you didn't marry him to milk cows! Why did you marry him if this is his life? What kind of a marriage is this?”


Kairissi. She's definitely "down on the farm." Notice how the Farmer’s Wife addresses her husband in the third person: it’s “him” and “his” dairy cows.

Elenchus. With the chilly “third person” we viscerally feel their internal separation and antipathy.

K. In this case, she can't blame the chilliness on North Dakota. But notice, too, she uses the “third person,” I think, because she’s not really addressing him so much but the "judges" of neighborhood “local manners” right there in her living room that evening. She’s an attorney making closing arguments to a jury of her peers.

E. I think she gets thirty years, but no time off for good behavior.

K. (small smile)

E. This is more extreme than the usual case of John and Mary in their “buying and selling, giving and receiving,” concerning pre-nuptial negotiations.

K. This calculating "Mary" actually wrote it right into their contract that there’d be no cow-milking for her. No sir, none of that for me, thank you very much.

E. Apparently, she was pretty enough for "John" to agree to this.

K. But I think he suffered “buyer’s remorse” on those 20-below January mornings.

E. With the wind-chill, it would be 50-below, worse than chilly; and if she keeps up her fine attitude it will soon be "buyer's reverse," as on those cold mornings he'll be analyzing the fine-print of what he was “forced” to sign.

K. “Forced”!

E. She was painfully beautiful.

K. This sounds like the guy in the "Hello, Mary Lou" song - he took one look at her and said, "I just had no choice."

E. And not even a herd of stampeding cows could keep him away; that is, until the wind-chill factor dropped to minus 20.

K. (small smile)

E. But I think it’s remarkable that a six year-old would understand all this.

K. And that’s an excellent point. We’ve talked about how people stay in bad marriages “for the children” – but this view imagines kids to be rather stupid - but they know everything. They can feel, unmistakably, the distance between mom and dad and the atmosphere of hostility in the home.

E. Kriss, do you have any final thoughts on this tragi-comedy?

K. Just that, it’s one more example of marrying the wrong person for the wrong reason. But, if you have to marry...

E. "Have to"!

K. As we said, if you're "forced" -- and so, if you have to marry, make sure at least she’s friendly.

E. I'll try to remember that the next time it comes up.

K. Uh-huh... you should write it down.

E. On North Dakota farms, on those cold January mornings, all farmers’ wives are “ice princesses.” But there are good kinds and not-so good kinds of this.