Remembering a Family Farm in Kansas
Arnold J. Bauer
Kansas Notable Book
Arnold Bauer grew up on his family's 160-acre farm in Goshen Township in Clay County, Kansas, amidst a land of prairie grass and rich creek-bottom soil. His meditative and moving account of those years depicts a century-long narrative of struggle, survival, and demise. A coming-of-age memoir set in the 1930s to 50s, it blends local history with personal reflection to paint a realistic picture of farm life and families from a now-lost world.
“Bauer weaves together disparate tales and recollections from his childhood into a detailed and entertaining memoir of the rise and fall of ‘a distinct and often rewarding rural culture’ in northeast Kansas.”
“A moving and meditative account that depicts a century of struggle, survival, and demise. The coming-of-age memoir, set from the 1930s to the 1950s, blends local history with personal reflection to paint a realistic picture of farm life and families.”
—Topeka Capital-JournalSee all reviews...
“A look back at a way of life that has all but disappeared. The author grew up on a 160-acre farm in Clay County, went to a one-room schoolhouse and lived through the Depression. The book contains Bauer’s own reminiscences mixed in with history. For example, he talks about water: how his family used cistern water and well water, how snakes rested in the cistern overflow in the summer, how water was raised in clanking tin cups. Then he describes the importance of water to pioneer families, how wells were sited (sometimes by water witchers with divining rods) and dug, and how, later, wells were drilled and windmills were used to bring up water. Readers with an interest in Kansas history and agriculture, as well as rural daily life in the 1930s–50s, will find this book accessible and illuminating.”
“A thoughtful first-person account of growing up in rural Kansas not so long ago, in the 1940s and 1950s, in a time and place on the verge of unimaginable change. Childhoods like Bauer’s are increasingly rare. That’s why an honest account of that world, not one seen through the sepia-tinted glasses of nostalgia, is so important. Bauer cares enough about a long-ago time and place to get the story right.”
—Rex Buchanan, Kansas NPR
“Bauer’s work is very reminiscent of the classic Sod and Stubble. Descriptive and reflective, it leaves us with the powerful sense that something significant happened. I like it a lot.”
—Thomas D. Isern, author of Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True PlainsSee fewer reviews...
Bauer's was typical of true family farms, where wives supplemented family income by selling butter and eggs and children provided unpaid labor. These hardworking farmers were not particularly heroic or virtuous. They had their debts and doubts; but at the same time their struggles for a kind of moral economy offer valuable lessons that merit our attention today.
Among Bauer's vivid recollections: driving a team of huge, clomping work horses; his father's daybreak call to long days in the field at age 12; and surviving eight years of education in a one-room schoolhouse (with one teacher determined to have all her students learn the harmonica). He shares the trials of Depression and drought, experiences the coming of electricity-which prompted his father to take on a sideline as an electrician-and reveals the vital importance of the local blacksmith. Throughout the book, he finds wonder in the commonplace, like going to town on a Saturday night for a black walnut ice cream cone.
Here is a childhood that few in the United States will ever know. More than that, it is a key to understanding the tragedy that befell the smaller family farms on the Great Plains as sweeping changes after the mid-1950s—falling grain and livestock prices, adverse terms of trade for agricultural products—turned out to be more devastating than tornados or dust storms.
Gracefully written with a keen eye for the telling detail, Time's Shadow eloquently captures the events of an era and the meaning it held for one boy and those around him. It is a refreshingly unsentimental "Little House on the Prairie" that will resonate not only with older compatriots but with anyone whose curiosity leads them to wonder about a world we have lost.