Susan WilliamsonMy mother came late to her role as a farm wife. She was in her forties when we moved to the farm, and having grown up in hotels (her father was a hotel manager), she didn’t even learn to cook until she was thirty.

When she and my father first married, they hired a WWII veteran, George, to take care of the lawn. He did that, but my mother also found out that he could cook. He couldn’t read, so Mother bought Joy of Cooking and read the recipes out loud to George. Then, she watched how he did things.

Ten years later we moved to the farm, and by then my mother was a great cook. She also took to gardening early on, growing beans, lettuce, and tomatoes at first. She had a fenced garden spot at our new home on the farm, and she added sweet corn, squash, chives, tarragon, and eventually potatoes.

She froze the extra veggies for the winter, and we made applesauce from the orchard. We had beef cattle, sheep, and hogs, so we raised our own meat supply. A tenant farmer took care of the animals, and a horse trainer worked the horses. My father commuted to his office and work as a building contractor.

But things happen. In the 1950s in Pennsylvania, the legislature saw fit to charge mortgage points and make it retroactive. My father had several homes under construction, and the new law wiped him out. We sold our new house, moved to the 1860s tenant house on the property, and became full-time farmers. The steel mills were closing; times were tough. I was young and I never realized how hard it must have been for my mother to sell her dream house.

She jumped into farm-wife mode. My parents bought chickens for eggs and a cow for milk. The chickens had the run of the barn across the road, and they would all lay in one hidden nest until we discovered the egg cache. Then they would find a new spot.

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