I Was Just Thinking… A quick lesson in ‘successful farming’
My mother rarely tossed things out. She’s been gone eight years now, but I still marvel from time-to-time at things she saved.
I suppose because she never had any wealth in her life, simple things took on greater importance. In her final years, Mom lived with my sister. Shortly after Mom passed away, my sister offered some of Mom’s “treasures,” tucked away and stacked neatly in several boxes in a closet.
In the past, I wrote about letters (Mom never threw away a letter she’d received and among them were every single letter I’d written her when I was in the military) and a few other things that drew my immediate attention. One, though, remained tucked away in a box until last week. Staying out of the physically-demanding high temperatures, I again pulled out one of Mom’s boxes of treasures.
There, packed neatly away, was an issue of “Successful Farming” dated September 1933. I’d come across the magazine before, but had not taken the time to leaf through the pages. Still, I thought, there had to be a reason the magazine was saved.
After several minutes looking through the worn pages, I found it. There it was, right on page 47 of the magazine. It was a poem titled “Farm Fences.” The author was Mrs. Harriet Knox.
I knew from family lore that my Grandmother was a poet; in fact, it was said she was a prolific poet. I’d been told that she spent hours at her two greatest passions – writing poetry and short stories at her kitchen table, or tending to her beloved gladiolas in a well-kept garden. I’d been told that Grandma often sent her poems to different publishing houses across the nation and that, at least on several occasions, her poems had been published. A cousin, before her death, had even published a book that included several poems that my Grandmother had written.
Grandma Knox did not finish high school. She was married and had already given birth to the first of her 11 children by the time she was 16 years old. Despite not finishing high school, she had a wonderful command of the English language and she had beautiful penmanship. She’d been born to Norwegian immigrants John Hildal and Lena Maland in Jewell, then known as “Jewell Junction.” She’d run away and married my Grandfather Charlie Knox, eight years her senior.
They lived on farmsteads near Jewell, Eldora, Iowa Falls and Radcliffe before purchasing a farm between Stratford and Homer (the address was actually Lehigh) in the late 1930s.
The poem that caught my attention read:
“The fence is shepherd of the farm;
“He reaches faithful arms about to keep unwelcome strangers out,
“And preserve his own from harm;
“Secure within the Guarded places,
“The green fields lift their smiling faces, Long corn rows rustle in the breeze,
“And ripe fruits bend the orchard trees …”
It was a long poem, ending finally with the lines:
“Marking the lines that all may heed and halt outside, or enter in;
“Keeper of the field, and stock, and home, my neighbor’s safeguard, and my own.”
I read, then re-read those lines and thought about my Grandmother, raising 11 children and still finding time to write poetry and tend to her precious flower garden. Much of the time there were young children running around, each of them needing care. She was often alone with that task as my Grandfather worked the fields of oats and beans and corn.
Her writing, thankfully, has been preserved for her children, grandchildren and future generations to enjoy. Many of them will never know the woman behind the work – she died far too early in 1960 at the hospital in Webster City. She was just 60 years old.
My hope is to somehow copy down all of her poems, all her short stories, all the rejection letters from publishers and all the acceptance letters, too. That way, more of her descendants will enjoy her work; it belongs to all of us.
She used various names when she submitted her work. She wrote poetry as Harriet (and Hattie) Knox, Harriet (and Hattie) Hildal and even under the pen name, Hattie Hill.
But, I knew her by only one name – Grandma.