Whoever invented the phrase “multitasking” was surely talking about country women.
These “ladies of the land” can drive a farm truck alongside a silage chopper, run a hay baler, pull a calf, or kill, clean and pluck a chicken. And then, in their spare time, prepare the family meals, do the shopping and laundry, keep the books, mend skinned knees and torn jeans, help the youngsters with their homework, and deworm the dog.
I know of at least four categories of country women. Some are masters of their own destiny, entrepreneurs who own and operate their own farms or livestock operations. Many country women partner with their spouses to manage working farms or ranches. Some farm and ranch wives are left in charge of the crops, children and critters while their husbands hold full-time jobs in town. And then there are rural women, who themselves work in town to supplement the family income or obtain health insurance.
None of them are afraid to get their hands dirty.
Country women know how to use a fence stretcher and a set of jumper cables, can speak knowledgeably about livestock breeds or corn hybrids, and know their way around the three-point hitch on the tractor. They’re equally adept at using a frog knife or a pair of fencing pliers, and they always remember to close gates. They’re part animal lover, part veterinarian and part wildlife expert. Part horticulturist, part entomologist and part economist.
If there are livestock on their place, you can bet that farm or ranch that women have, at one time or another, chased down errant cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses or llamas on the lam. They have bottle-fed orphans and brought newborn lambs, calves or colts into the house to keep them from freezing on an icy-cold winter night. They will put out food for the barnyard cats and aren’t squeamish about retrieving field mice from traps.
Like their urban counterparts, farm and ranch mothers are counted on to drive their children to school sporting events and doctor appointments. Even if it’s a 30-mile trip to town and there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Country mothers help their children halter-break 4-H club calves, and teach them how to ride and how to judge when the sweet corn is ready. Some have been known to take their children fishing.
A farm or ranch woman is almost always in charge of the garden.
Her husband may agree to till the plot with the tractor, but that will be the last time he’ll step foot in the vegetable patch. It is her responsibility to buy the seeds, spread the fertilizer, plant the vegetables, watch for insects and disease, and make sure the garden is watered. She, not he, will harvest the ripe produce and then cook, can or serve it. Her husband, on the other hand, will brag to the neighbors about “our garden.”
Rural wives prepare lunch for an entire harvest crew or a dozen neighbors who show up to help with the branding. They know 27 ways to make a casserole for a church dinner and a dozen recipes for cookies for the PTA bake sale. They possess the magic to turn wild plums and chokecherries into tasty jelly and, if you don’t mind an occasional shotgun pellet, can prepare a roast pheasant or duck equal to that served at the finest French restaurant.
More often than not, country women are in charge of the family finances. They balance the checkbook and pay bills from the veterinarian, feed and fertilizer companies, propane deliveryman, and the company that pumps the septic tank. They keep track of insurance policies and 401-K accounts, and a country wife is the go-to person at tax time.
Out of necessity, farm and ranch women can even fill in as emergency medical technicians. They are experienced at treating children with chicken pox, mumps, measles and the flu. They bandage cut fingers and toes and will, when required, forcibly drive a stubborn husband to town when he breaks an arm, gashes a leg, or gets kicked by a horse.
Rural women are a treasury of essential information. Need the phone number of a reliable well testing service, a large animal veterinarian, a trucking company that can haul hay bales, or a farm equipment repair shop? A country wife keeps them all on a bulletin board in the kitchen or stored in her cell phone. She may also have phone numbers for the local flood control district, the county roads department and the rural mail carrier.
Some country women dream of Caribbean cruises, dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a shopping expedition in the city. What they settle for may be a weekend trip to a farm show, dinner at the local café hosted by a seed company rep, or a trip to buy tube socks at the nearest Walmart.
Although she has go-to-town clothes hanging in her closet, a country woman can change into jeans, boots and work gloves in the blink of an eye when her help is needed to move cattle, drive a truckload of grain to the elevator, or hook up a feed wagon. It is a big day when she finally gets a new pair of coveralls in her size, instead of wearing her husband’s hand-me-downs.
She’d love to drive a new car, but often has to settle for the old pickup truck when her husband gets a new one. In the event her husband remembers her birthday, it is unlikely he will think to buy her jewelry, perfume or flowers. It is more likely she will receive something practical, like a set of insulated underwear.
Country women appreciate the rainbow after a rain shower, a patch of dandelions in bloom, the first green leaves of spring, and the bounty from the garden. They enjoy the sounds of children laughing and birds singing, the smell of a horse, a brilliant sunset, and the satisfaction of doing many jobs well.
If you’re the husband or child of a country woman, take a minute to thank her for all she does. And it wouldn’t hurt to buy her a bouquet of flowers.
Pam Schleicher is the rural woman who hears “thank you” every day from husband Jerry at their Parkville, Missouri, rural home.