27 November

If Old Farmhouses Could Talk. Farmers Did.

by Jon Katz

This is one of my favorite old farmhouses, and I do wish it could talk. The farmhouse has seen a couple of hundred winters, at least, and is preparing to get through another one.

If farmhouses could talk, they could fill a blog every day.

The next best thing for me is to read my Farm Journals, which I collected from farm wives and widows all over the country soon after I moved here. They wanted the world to see them, rather than wither in closets and drawers.

The journals inspired the name of my blog, the Bedlam Farm Journal. I read them every week or so for inspiration.

It takes me thousands of words to tell stories the farmers told in 20 or 30 – children dying, cows dying in storms, bulls escaping through fences, terrifying eclipses, devastating storms,  horrific and killing infections and injuries, the sale of eggs,  expenses meticulously listed after trips to the general store.

Their lives were hard; death was all around them always, and so was great suffering. But they loved their freedom and their lives.

I gave most of the journals to the county historical society; I kept this one.

It said on the first page that it was a “Pocket Diary for 1861, for registering events of PAST OR PRESENT OCCURENCE, manufacturers, merchants, housekeepers, mechanics, farmers. and PROFESSIONAL MEN.”

My farmer was a sober man. In a few words, he recorded the starvation death of all of his cows after a three-day storm that trapped them in the fields.

He was worried about his family starving. Neighbors clawed their way through the snowbanks to bring them soup.

He records the fate of his daughter Mary, who was eight: On Tuesday, “Mary Took Sick.” On Thursday, “Mary died.” She was buried in the family plot out beyond the barn.

The journals inspired me to share my life, as the farmers shared theirs. To be honest. I would love to find the Farm Journal for the above farmhouse. Imagine all the stories.

I sometimes wonder what they would make of my Farm Journal, but I am grateful to them for haunting me into doing it.

Their blogs were truthful and revealing; they never tried to write to make themselves look better than they were; they never lied to themselves or tried to make themselves look good to others.

They always remind me to be authentic and to remember that everyone in the world has it worse than I do.


  1. Your phrase to “remember that everyone in the world has it worse than I do” brings to mind the old story that if each of us combined all of our problems and woes into a knapsack and placed it in a cloakroom where we could all go through each person’ knapsack we would, in the end, pick up our own and be grateful.

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