" A young fellow wantin' a start in life just needs three things: a piece of land, a cow and a wife. And he don't strictly need that last"
Cows and wives have been rather important on the historic joined Monson family farms.
Growing up the Monson brothers were responsible for milking 14 cows every morning and night alongside all the other farm chores of digging potatoes, planting corn, single horse plowing, and scything hay. Julius would later move to Scandia and install a state of the art milking parlor, the first of it's kind at the time. Visitors would come from miles around to admire it and learn from it. Mauritz built the barn that stands today overlooking our sheep and goats for his dairy herd from the tops of pilings from the old Stillwater bridge over the St. Croix River.
Last week the pigs made it known to us in no uncertain terms that we would have to get ourselves a milk cow if we were to keep them contented and personable. They also reminded us that we were breaking with historic president by not having a cow on the place...
So when we brought "Honey" home it was no surprise how the general appearance of the place seemed to brighten a little. Suddenly the stall in the barn gleamed with respectability. The cow is the grand dame of the farmyard. She is the most sensative of all the animals. In her book Keeping a Family Cow" Joann Grohman alludes to studies which indicate that cows certainly prefer classical music to rock...she eggs the unsuspecting on to devouring copious amounts of cream as "cream is very valuable nutritionally. It contains all the vitamin A or beta carotene in milk." Not that we needed any coaxing. When we found a good 6 inches of cream on top of one of our half-gallon jars this morning in the fridge we found many excuses for multiple samplings. Our three year old interrupted a conversation to solemnly declare that "Honey" must stand for "Honeysuckle Rose", and given that she seems most in tune to what the sheep, chickens, pigs, and goats are thinking these days, we respectively complied.
In the 1930s and 40s, David and Mauritz Monson raised potatoes in the same field we've been transplanting into these past few weeks. David would wake early on May mornings and harness the horses...Mauritz would follow after the morning chores on his tractor...
Coming and going from milking Honey, the newest addition to the Little Flower Farm family, and out in the field burying the tomato transplants up to their necks we run into the ghosts of memory. We are walking the same paths, doing the same tasks on the farm, at the same pace, as they have done before us decades ago...back when "taking in a radio show" was something to write about in a letter to a loved one. The work is hard. The pleasures are simple. But the work itself rolls us on in its seasonal rythmn, and the pleasures...of cool Jersey cream on a hot afternoon, freshly baked bread cooling on the kitchen table, and a good grooming session with Maj and Marta after a morning's work in the field...are sweet.
David's love letters to his sweetheart, Esther, are a testament to the slow and steady beauty of life in the country, life on the land. They are as full of the farm as they are of his care and devotion. They wrote eachother for nearly 10 years before she finally set a date for their wedding. In summer the ripe strawberries and melons on the farm had David wishing Esther were here in Marine on St. Croix...He wrote of village base ball games, Homemade icecream on the 4th of July, fattening hogs, scything hay, and a deep confindence in a generous God and a bounteous land. Esther, a farm girl herself, in Parker's Prairie,MN raised prize-winning turkeys and worked in the fields and in the barn milking alongside the men. In her journal, under July 4th of 1935 she wrote that David had visited and asked "Esther when will the blessed day be?" amidst embraces and kisses and prayers to the good Lord above. 10 days before their wedding day, June 9th of 1938 David was kicked in the head by his favorite horse while tending to a food wound. He nearly died of his injuries...decade long span of letter writing would be taken up by his Brothers and sister, who wrote to Esther every day from the hospital, updating her as to David's condition. Their wedding day came and went. Finally on June 19th 1938 David and Esther married, and were "riced" and "chivareed" in style! They would move to Oak Hill Farm and continue working the land between the orignal family home and Mauritz's new farm where Little Flower Farm is today. It was only after Esther died of cancer in the 60s that David sold his cows. The work of the farm was a shared endeavor, and its heart had gone from it when she passed on.
I think of them often in those quite moments milking in the evening. Seven O'clock. The girls are upstairs brushing teeth and pulling on pajamas. They are picking out their favorite fairy tales and picture books. I stand in the stall stroking Honey while Shane milks to the undulating rythmn of 4 teat percussion. She's taking big pulls from her pile of hay and a few hens are poking around for some loose grain from her bucket...it is a rare moment for us to be together alone....almost. We are both leaning into the flank of the farm. Satisfied in the daily work of it. Perpetuated by the solid and shared experience of life on the land. If one of us speaks it is only to find out that the other of us was thinking the same thing. Honey turns her head to eye us with her big moooning eyes. Shane hands me the bucket of fresh milk to strain and cool with the same affection as if he'd handed me a bouquet and a box of chocolates...
We're always asking that same question of David's: "Oh when will that blessed day be?" for shares to come in, for sheep to birth, for our work to be done, for the cream to rise, for the bread to bake....Here on this farm the answer comes back to us again and again: yesterday. tomorrow. Today.
We are running into the ghosts of memory. In the stall. Down the Lane. In the field.