We all have experiences in life that leave a lasting impression. Most people will never forget the pomp and circumstance of their high school graduation, how they felt on their wedding day, or the sheer joy that comes from watching their child take his or her first step.
For Gordon Fredrickson of Lakeville, Minnesota, the experience worth remembering is his entire upbringing. He was born in 1945 and raised on a family farm.
“I have fond memories of what rural life used to be like in Minnesota,” says Fredrickson, who along with his wife, Nancy, is now on a mission to preserve the way things used to be for future generations through literature.
After he retired from a career as a high school English teacher and theater director at St. Michael-Albertville High School, and while he was working as an information technician at Factory Motor Parts in Eagan, Fredrickson started writing stories about how life used to be.
“I guess I was inspired by ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’” he says. “The book is phenomenal in that people still read it and pick it up even though it has nothing to do with what they celebrate. I marvel at that.”
Now Fredrickson is hoping his own children’s tales about farm life in rural Minnesota in the 1950s will become collector’s keepsakes in their own right. Six of the ten books he has written about a fictional farm family scraping a living off the land in rural Minnesota have been published so far. A seventh title will be available this summer.
In his first tale, A Farm Country Christmas Eve published by Beaver’s Pond Press in 2008, the Carlson children tend to their chores as they wait for Santa to arrive. Jimmy, Joey and Mags know the jolly old elf visits farm families when the children are out doing chores, not when they are sleeping. On Christmas Eve, they can’t wait to get their work done so they can see what he brought for them. In the story, 5-year-old Joey learns how to get a calf to drink out of a bucket and why kitties tend to hang around barns.
Fredrickson’s other titles also offer teaching moments about farm life. In A Farm Country Halloween, kids learn how close knit farm communities are. A Farm Country Thanksgiving focuses on what kids did for fun during simpler times. If I Were a Farmer: Nancy’s Adventure offers a glimpse of farm life from a child’s perspective. If I Were a farmer: Field Work shows kids how things used to be done on farms by hand before machines were available and If I Were a Farmer: Tommy’s Adventure focuses on all the labor-intensive jobs that needed to be done on a day-to-day basis.
A seventh title will be published this summer. A Farm Country Picnic is a story about summertime – the haying season on the farm. One day the kids want to go fishing and have a picnic, but their parents didn’t have time to take a break because the hay needs to get cut and then picked up from the field after it dries. Their father tells them they can go fishing the next time it rains. But when that much anticipated day comes, an unexpected problem postpones their afternoon of fun.
All of Fredrickson’s tales are fictional, but like most good authors, he has interjected a lot of his own personal experiences into his books. As a young boy he milked cows, carried water to the hogs and chickens and gathered dandelions to feed to the goslings. His older sisters had important chores to do too.
Fredrickson’s parents kept that family farm going for close to 40 years until 1980 when it became too much to handle and they needed to call it quits; and they were not alone. According to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms nationwide has been on a declining trend since World War II. In 1950, 5.3 million farms dotted the nation. The 2007 Census of Agriculture counted less than half that number: 2,204,792 farms in the United States.
The majority of Minnesota’s family farms may be gone, but if Fredrickson has anything to do with it, they will never be forgotten. He spends a great deal of time traveling the state, putting on what he calls “little performances” at schools, libraries, community centers, State Fairs, “Pretty much anywhere anyone wants me,” says Fredrickson.
No matter who he is presenting to, toddlers , elementary school students, audiences at museums, or senior citizens, his shows all begin with a similar introduction: “Hello everyone. My name is Gordon Fredrickson. For the past ten years I have been writing and performing stories about a fictional farm country in 1950. Now I don’t write these stories to try to glorify the past nor to lament the loss of the many family farms. Instead I write to try to preserve our farm heritage by telling entertaining, accurate stories about farm families with humor and love because I truly believe a story not told is lost forever.”
Fredrickson shows up for each of his performances dressed in the same bib overalls real farmers wear, which adds a level of authenticity to the show people are about to see. During his performances he reads from one or more of his books, and puts great inflection into the voices of each character as he project pictures from the past and illustrations from his books onto a large screen.
“Teachers at several of the preschools I have read at have told me the kids were mesmerized form the moment I came into the room. Adults have told me the presentations made them feel all nostalgic. I am so glad people have liked the show,” says Fredrickson.
So what’s next for this retired farmer from Lakeville? He is hoping to see a play he is in the process of writing come to life on the stage. “Farm Country Tales” lays out the story of farming in 1950 from a child’s point of view and an adult’s point of view.
“I want to create a kit that rural schools can send for, and it will be a play of their heritage. It will be a play about them,” says Fredrickson.
Gordon Fredrickson’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, and can also be ordered online at Amazon.com or through the author’s website: www.gordonfredrickson.com. The site also has information on how to request a free Farm Country performance for your school or organization.
About the Author
Gordon Fredrickson was born in New Prague, Minnesota, and grew up on his family’s 120-acre dairy farm in hilly, rocky eastern Scott County. Like all local farm children, he began work on the farm as a young child. His chores included such activities as milking the cows, carrying water to the chickens and hogs and picking dandelions to feed the goslings.
Fredrickson and his wife of 40 years, Nancy, now live on a small piece of the property his parents farmed in the middle and latter part of the 20th century.
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