A debut collection of vignettes about the author’s childhood on an Iowa farm.
Between 1900 and 1990, the number of Americans who lived on family farms declined from 42 percent of the population to less than 2 percent. Newspaper reporter Griffiths grew up on such a farm near Parkersburg, Iowa, in the 1950s and ’60s, and this is an affectionate, if impersonal, elegy for a vanishing way of life. “Rural America,” he notes, “has been as transformed by science and technology as other sectors of our nation.” Griffiths lovingly details almost every aspect of the dairy farming, corn growing, and hog raising to which he was exposed, starting at age 4 when he rode a cultivator plowing through a cornfield. “My father believed all children had work potential, no matter how young they were,” he recalls. “Play was okay for town kids, he’d say, but country youth had to learn responsibility.” Griffiths’ responsibilities included everything from filling silos with corn to spraying cows and protecting them from flies to transplanting “protesting pullets” from brooder houses to wire cages: “Like chicken thieves, we stole [in] just after darkness and began the resettlement project.” The author’s collage of country life includes recollections of the schoolhouse he attended in second grade—“Older boys used to capture mice in traps and dangle the partly paralyzed rodents in the faces of girls”—and the local drugstore, where “the stools and booths around the soda fountain were filled with teenagers sipping green rivers and cherry cokes.” Still, this is a somewhat one-dimensional piece of Americana because he reveals so little about the people in his rural world. There is an amusing anecdote about his mother being cornered in an outhouse by an “ill-tempered ram,” but as for her personality, he simply says that she was “practical, unassuming, modest and enduring.” Only the local blacksmith—a “peppery, strong-willed, broad-shouldered and tireless” man who “developed welding into an art”—gets a fleshed-out portrait. Griffiths’ vignettes may have worked for his newspaper columns on farming but, without the human touch, are less effective as a book.
An affectionate but facile look at family farm life.