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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 22.1 (2001) 74-78

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Farmer's Wife

Karen Bucher

My mother still lives on our eighty-acre family farm in Lebanon County, southeastern Pennsylvania. Since I live two-thousand miles away in New Mexico, I am able to visit only two times every year. When I am there, I photograph her and the spaces and things in the house and buildings.

This world, especially the house, has not changed much since I spent my childhood there in the 1950s and 1960s. My mother began shaping it after she and my father took over the farm from his parents in 1947. It had been owned by four generations of his Swiss-German Anabaptist family. She was not so concerned about carrying on this heritage. Her family lived in town, and she had been a factory worker. She and my father just wanted to make this run-down farm a comfortable, modern home for us three children. They called it Sunnydell Farm. They wanted the best for us, the best that they could afford on a small dairy farm income. They encouraged us to be and to perform the best, to compete at school, in 4-H clubs, and children's contests, to go to college, and to be upwardly striving.

Now the land is rented to neighboring farmers, the buildings stand empty, and my mother has lived alone since my father died in 1991. She continues to take care of the place as she has for fifty years. When I stay there, I am drawn back into old emotions and the intensity of our lives when I was a child. In some of my photos I attempt to recreate those feelings with toys, paper dolls, arrangements of objects, perspective.

This project includes photographs, family snapshots, and stories, local history, and my autobiographical writings. I want to bring across the complex layers of cultural and personal meaning in the things and spaces there, the history of a family, and the development of a subjectivity that arises from the particularity of a time and place. I am developing a book and a CD-Rom that will include texts, photographs, digitized family photos, and imagery from papers, magazines, and greeting cards found in the house. [End Page 74]


My mother sweeping while the housepainter works, 1997.

My parents took over the farm from his family in 1947. He asked her to quit her factory job and help on the farm, though he would never ask her to do farmwork like his mother had. She would work in the house and garden, sew our clothing, run errands for him, do the shopping. Every summer my sister and I joined 4-H clubs--agricultural and home economics. My mother was a leader in our home-ec club, and we learned how to sew, how to model the dresses we made, how to set a table and decorate it, how to cook. They wanted the best for us and shared our blue ribbons and awards.

She still remembers, though at the time a neighbor told her that she was trying to be better than what she was--just a farmer's wife.

After my father died in 1991, she nursed her older sister for six years. She would tell me she wondered what it was all for. She was tired. My mother was always taking care of someone else--us, her mother, her sister, my great aunt, an elderly neighbor. She taught Sunday school, made quilts for the homeless, and took in foster children. She was always there for my father, dressed nicely, kept the house tidy and decorated--a house full of things imbued with all our old desires. [End Page 75]


By the fireplace: a repainted chair from our Sunday school classroom, the farm sign, my grandparents' pottery jugs, the dining room cart.


In the attic: the dresser she repainted and decorated for us, a brochure, our dolls with dresses she made, a mask from a Little Bo-peep costume. [End Page 76]


The window in the sewing room: our 4...


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