Whenever I fill out a form that asks me to list my occupation, I put down "farmer," the same word I use when I'm asked my husband's occupation. The following is a true story:
The man reading the form says, "Your
husband is a farmer?"
"Yes, my husband and I are
farmers," I reply.
"You don't have a job?"
"Yes, I have a job. I'm a farmer."
"I mean, you don't work outside the home?"
"Actually, quite a lot of farming is done
"I mean, you don't work for anyone
"No, I don't work for anyone else."
"So, you are just a housewife, or would you
prefer farmwife?" (He is getting ready to change the word "farmer"
on the form.)
I tell him, "Ted and I are farmers
and I'm a wife and he's a husband. If you insist I am just a
farmwife, then he is just a farmhusband. The fact that I'm the wife
and he's the husband has nothing to do with our occupation. We are
* Elaine M.
LEANING INTO THE WIND:
WOMEN WRITE FROM THE HEART OF THE WEST
Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, Nancy Curtis, editors: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116 (Marc Jaffe,
617/351-5000), 1997, $25,
Review by Betsy
Even if the words came
to them scrawled on pieces of scrap paper, announced three editors
in Wyoming, stories about women's life on the land in the High
Plains states of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and the two
Dakotas would get read and considered for
So in poured memoirs and diaries:
"Manuscripts from 550 women erected a tower of submissions 12 feet
high," writes Linda Hasselstrom, author of seven books and, as one
of the editors, astounded by the response. It took some four years
for Hasselstrom and her colleagues, Gaydell Collier, a library
director and writer, and Nancy Curtis, owner of High Plains Press,
to read through the pile. They read with faith a book would emerge;
they had neither an agent nor a publisher when they started their
project. But they believed there was a book in women speaking for
"We expected to, and did, find women
as tough as we are," Hasselstrom writes, "but the manuscripts were
startling in ways we hadn't expected. We also met women more
patient and angrier than we are; women who have endured pain that
struck us dumb and yet kept their hope and faith."
The editors looked for authenticity rather than
political correctness and stipulated no fiction, because "too much
fiction has warped the world's view of the West." Some women told
stories of their childhoods during the Great Depression; others
told of struggling to help first-time mother cows deliver babies
that were way too big. One recounted the bitter loss of a ranch to
in-laws after her husband's death. While many excerpts take just a
few lines to give a vivid snapshot, others are fully developed
essays, immediate and memorable, such as Shannon Dyer's story about
the auctioning off of her family's possessions in 1987, the year
"the bank took our ranch."
The language is
occasionally so naked a reader wishes for a little protective
veneer. Phyllis Luman Metal, for example, recalls how she became a
pawn in the domestic war between her cowboy father and city-bred
mother. Lumen Metal, an only child who is now in her 90s, says her
parents sent her away to boarding school when she was 6 years old.
As the single product of this unlikely marriage, she recalls, "I
never fit in anywhere." That is, until she came back to the
Deirdre Stoelzle, a reporter, treats us to
contemporary experiences with colliding cultures at a cowboy
"The fake cowboys are the ones wearing hats
and Western shirts and are often overweight and have full beards.
The real ones look oddly unobtrusive. Lots of them are fairly
lanky, some are short, most of them don't wear boots or leather
shoes. They're the ones who'll dance with you, and, depending on
the guy, don't dance as well as you'd imagine."
Several themes emerge from this High Plains
mosaic, and unlike some anthologies about the West, most don't make
our cliché meter go off, perhaps because the women who express
pride in the toughness they've developed ground it in experience.
We see that the closeness most feel toward the animals they raise
is created by the unrelenting care they have to give them. The land
they work, which randomly destroys what they create by flooding,
burning or crackling in drought, becomes their solace and most
Some of the writers - I counted 208
- confess it took them years to understand how lonely they were in
these gloriously wide-open spaces. It took the women even more
years to come into their own. Now, their clear, engaging voices can
be heard in a book publisher Marc Jaffe calls "The genuine
article." He knew it, he says, "when Nancy (Curtis) sent me the
final manuscript in a freezer box marked "chicken tenderloins."