N4L 092: "Growing Up Country" by Carol Bodensteiner

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SUMMARY

Business writer turned memoirist, Carol Bodensteiner felt compelled by her mother’s insistence to gather childhood stories, which she compiled in Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. Each story stands alone, depicting Bodenstein’s happy childhood on a small, family-owned dairy farm in the late 1950s. Her stories help us step back in time, giving us a slice of history and portraying a time of innocence as Bodensteiner experiences farm life between ages ten to twelve. For her, growing up country meant working hard and eating off the land while finding adventures in her own backyard.

KEY POINTS

  • Along with cows, animals of all kinds—cats, dogs, geese, and pigs—are important characters on a predominantly dairy farm.
  • A rooster who attacked Bodensteiner’s little sister Sue is eaten for dinner.
  • Growing up country includes fried chicken for Sunday dinner, a widespread tradition among farm families.
  • Lunch is a meal served several times a day, both between meals and for guests before they went home. Lunch also provides an opportunity for farm workers to rest a bit.
  • Sunday visiting is customary for people who work the other six days of the week.
  • Bodensteiner cannot recall a time when she did not work on the farm, at first alongside her parents, until she becomes a productive member of the farm.
  • These stories capture a way of life disappearing from the American landscape.

QUOTES FROM BODENSTEINER

  • “If you grew up on a farm, this [book] will be a trip down memory lane. If you didn’t grow up on a farm, this is a trip into what may seem like foreign territory, but you’re going to enjoy it so much!”
  • “Animals were our livelihood—and the food on our table.”
  • “When you went to someone’s house or they came to your house, you were going to get food. It was just part of the deal…. It was part of the [farm] hospitality.”
  • “Dinner is at noon; supper is at night. It’s a very important distinction that has been lost in modern society.”
  • “Church in our neighborhood, regardless of what religion you were…when Sunday came around, you went to church…. It was part of life.”
  • “Age ten was a rite of passage [because] we got to start carrying milk.”
  • “Dad and Mom involved us kids in everything. If they were outside doing something, we were out there doing it with them. Until a certain age, kids really want to be around our parents, and to be around our parents was to be doing work.”
  • “Kids develop resiliency by being in situations where they have to figure things out. They have to face challenges and overcome and develop that confidence. If kids live in a bubble, I don’t know how they develop that.”
  • “Kids growing up on farms today don’t have the same experience…that insulated family-unit life a small community because now we have media 24/7…. We’re surrounded by contact with the world, and we weren’t then.”

RECOMMENDATION

“One of the most brutally revealing records of an America that was ignored by society—a class of people whose level of poverty left them as spiritually, mentally, and physically worn as the land on which they toiled. Time has done nothing to decrease this book’s power.” —Library Journal

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