Lydia will be 101 on February 8, 2011.
She tells me my books are "...the real thing."
After performing my book, A Farm Country Halloween, at Goldfinch Estates, Fairmont, MN, I visit with some of the residents.
Lydia tells me that her specialty for the trick and treaters was her home made fudge.
We discuss putting up loose hay and pitching it on the wagon and several other farm memories. When she was little, her job when putting up hay was to tramp the hay on the wagon so it packed and made a better load.
She tells me she really liked my show and my books because "This is the real thing."
"Are you going to be around awhile?" she asks.
"Yes," I answer.
"I'll go back to my room and get some money. I want to buy your Halloween book," she explains.
She handles her walker with confidence and grace. She' returns in no time at all.
Let's go back to the beginning of the day, Friday, October 15, 2010.
Nancy and I are looking forward to our third visit to Goldfinch Estates where Marilyn Oelke, Community Life Director at the facility, invited us for lunch at 12:30. We leave at 10:00 AM so we have plenty time for a leisurely two-hour drive to Fairmont on a beautiful October day.
We take a short walk down a path at one of the rest stops on I-35
Does it get any better than this?
It's always a delight to talk to Marilyn because she usually has a story or two and she loves to laugh.
The first time we met her was at a book-signing I was doing at Barnes & Noble in Mankato where she told us the story of when she was a little girl and decided to help her mother clean eggs by adding a bluing solution used to whiten clothes to the water they used to clean eggs. She remembered her mother had told her, "The whiter the eggs, the more money we get."She wanted to surprise her mother with really white eggs. Well, she surprised her all right, but the eggs turned blue, resulting in a lower price from the local produce.
Marilyn greets us at the door and seats us for lunch at a table with herself and Eleanor, a resident who tells us stories of taking care of four babies after her own were grown. She seems to have the energy to do it again.
After we finish the fine meal of ham, mashed potatoes, peas, beets, and raspberry sherbert, Nancy and I realize we have about 15 minutes to set up before the fifth and 6th graders from St. John's Lutheran School in Fairmont arrive.
"Are you famous?' a fifth grader asks me as he reads my card.
"Not even close," I say.
Nancy adds, "He is now that you know him."
I chat with the kids awhile before Marilyn introduces me.
There is a wonderful dynamic in an audience filled with the experience of seniors and the energy and curiosity of youth. When I describe walking down dark, narrow country roads to trick or treat at neighboring farms, the seniors nod and smile while the youngsters tilt their heads with curious skepticism. Since sixth grade students volunteer to read every Friday morning to seniors in the special care unit, they have a genuine respect for the stories of long ago and the people who tell them.
In the photo below, I begin the story of how my folks started farming, which includes explaining that they milked cows in a barn without a roof for a year, enduring winter cold and snow and summer rains. Seniors, many of whom grew up on a farm and helped farm during hard times, chuckle and nod because they know the extremes that had to be endured. The young people listen intently.
I lead into explaining how my purpose for writing is to "tell the local story of rural America," which is the story of our farm heritage that doesn't often get told in books when publishing is controlled by east and west coast publishing houses who are not interested in stories about farming in Minnesota.
History does a good job of telling the stories of the rich and famous or the big shots, but it tends to ignore the stories of regular, honest people, who worked hard and scraped by from month to month. These stories are our heritage and need to be told.
I don't write to glorify the past or lament the changes. I write to tell the stories with accuracy, humor and love.
And I consider myself a really lucky guy to be doing my shows for audiences like this one.
Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson