Stuck on the Farm
I have written about my aunt Rhema Anderson Fair (1901-1996) before, but two events have inspired me to tell you more stories about her. Rhema, who was my mother’s (Harriette Anderson Kaser’s) half sister, has many, many stories, among them, her escape from the farm.
No doubt, Aunt Rhema’s experiences on the farm she and her husband Kenneth Earl Fair (1898-1994) lived on when they were married parallel those of many farm wives. But you see, she didn’t quite bargain on being a farm wife to start out with.
In my previous story about Rhema, I explained a little of how, when her mother died, she was raised by relatives rather than by her own father, who married my grandmother after his first wife died. It is no wonder that she was a little restless and yearning for a family of her own.
The person who had the most influence on Rhema, her great aunt, Amy Anderson Roof, taught her to value learning and education. Amy, as I have related before, had traveled widely with her husband Thomas Roof, who left her a widow when Rhema was five. Then Amy joined Rhema’s great Uncle Frank Anderson in taking care of the young girl. Amy was deeply religious and had plans for Rhema.
At sixteen Rhema met and fell in love with her future husband, who was then nearly twenty.
The family, of course thought it was a bit young to be getting so serious, and Aunt Amy thought Rhema needed a religious education, so they bundled her off to college. But in less than a year Rhema was back in Killbuck, Ohio and by the time she was 18 1/2 she had married Earl. The great aunt and great uncle who were responsible for her did not object strenuously to the marriage because Earl came from a prosperous farm family. And the fact that Earl was a teacher impressed the Anderson relatives who respected education.
The young couple moved into a small house on the large Fair farm near Clark, Ohio. Suddenly, Rhema, who was used to living in a large house in town with fine china and a laundress to take care of the wash, was living in a ramshackle two-bedroom house with a door that did not fit into the frame and a screen door that hung loose on the hinges, and an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing.
She was expected to pitch in and got up at 5 or 6 in the morning and milked 6 or 8 of the 16 cows. The barn was at the bottom of a steep hill, and the house at the top. She carried the pails of milk up the hill and ran them through the hand-cranked separator, and then carried the pails of milk and cream back down to the barn where the dairyman would pick them up. All of this happened twice a day. This went on until her husband built a milk house near the barn.
Other farm chores included feeding the cattle, pigs, and sheep. Her mother-in-law, who lived in the big house, took care of the chickens, and an Uncle of Earl’s looked after the garden. The farm grew corn and oats and so at harvest time, extra hands would appear for Rhema to cook for.
She also had to carry water up the hill to the house for several years until Earl had a well drilled for the house. In five year’s time, after the birth of Frank (1920) and Richard (1925) she was cooking and doing laundry for a family of four in addition to the farm chores. But there was also always a farm hand that lived with them–another mouth to feed.
Around the time that her first son, Frank, was born in 1920, oil was discovered in the area and oil-well drillers came to the farm. In order to raise a little extra money, Rhema took in oil workers as boarders, so she had more responsibility. Three or four would sleep in one room of the 2-bedroom house. In nice weather, one might sleep on the porch.
Why, you might be wondering, since this was a supposedly a prosperous farm and oil was found on the property, could they not have more improvements in their way of life? Well, Earl’s father owned the farm, and the old man was not all that crazy about farming and even less enthusiastic about spending any money on improvements.
Earl kept teaching and went away to take classes each summer. In this picture Harriette–my mother, who had a teaching job in Clark, joins the family.)
Finally, they made a temporary move to an apartment in an old hotel building in the town of Clark, just a mile or so from the farm. Although that was somewhat of an improvement, Rhema again took in boarders. In later years, as Rhema told her story, she said with prize-winning understatement and her trademark grin, “You’re getting the idea that I didn’t care for farming.”
Her boys grew up on the farm and in Clark, and finally, after 18 years, Rhema and Earl moved to Kent, Ohio, so that Earl could finish his schooling and get a better job. In order to make the escape from the farm, Rhema had to be able to make money, and she got a job as a housemother for a bunch of unruly college boys. How she advanced from being a housemother to a University Director of Housing–and in her words “To BE somebody,” is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that she never had to carry water or milk cows again.
The Stories behind the Story
The first event that inspired more Rhema tales came in the mail. I received a package that is the kind of thing that family historians dream about. As a result of the first article I wrote, grandchildren of my Aunt Rhema got in touch with me and one day I received four DVDs in the mail. Three of them are a video of Aunt Rhema talking about her family history and stories. The fourth is pictures of the family. I hardly need to tell you what a treasure trove that is! I thank them for permission to use the pictures you see here.
The video was made in 1989, when Rhema was 88 years old, and yet I felt like it was the Rhema I knew from the 1960’s, with sparkling brown eyes, that slight tilt of the head when she gave a rather ornery smile, and her meticulous dedication to being sure that everything she said was correct. So the story of escaping the farm comes from Rhema herself.
The second event arrived over the computer. With a little time on my hands over the holidays, I roamed through some genealogy sites on the Internet, and discovered the wonderfully named No Story Too Small, written by Amy Johnson Crow. Amy started a blogger challenge called 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks and an army of genealogy buffs signed up, including Ancestors in Aprons. Each week in 2014, I’ll be sharing a story from one of my ancestors.