Joni Ernst, currently a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, gained some mileage earlier in the political season with an advertisement celebrating the fact she grew up on a farm and knew how to castrate hogs --- so she'd know how to "cut pork" in Washington, D.C., too.
I'd never vote for Ernst, or any other Republican for that matter --- but it was a great attention-getter; mocked, of course, in many non-farm circles.
My mother, along with many other farm women, knew how to castrate hogs, too. She just didn't consider it a qualification for public office.
But had a conversation we almost had around the supper table the other evening about the distinctions between "housewives" and "farm wives" gotten off the ground, I'd have used my mother's skill with the castrating knife as ammunition.
Keep in mind I'm not suggesting here that a woman's place is in the home (or down on the farm, or in the hog shed); we were just talking a little about traditional roles and traditional divisions of labor.
My point was that during Iowa's family-farm heyday, farm women generally had a role their sisters in town didn't. They were farmhands, too.
Looking at the photo I used yesterday of men and women gathered for a corn-husking bee, the traditional roles were evident. The men were dressed to go into the fields and pick corn; the women, in aprons, to whip up meals to feed them.
But I'd be willing to bet, in other circumstances, the women were fully capable of pulling on heavy coats, grabbing a husking peg, hitching up the horses and going into the field to pick corn, too --- and probably did.
Thinking about that, brought up the question of integrated lives and their potential value. Many of us, or so it seems in this day and age, lead scattered lives, spread too thinly in too many directions. Mine certainly is --- a half dozen e-mails a day reminding me of jobs to do, projects for various organizations and proposals for more. Meanwhile, housekeeping falls by the wayside; the grass keeps growing (it keeps raining); and all I really wanted to do this week was explore more prairie remnants.
The perceived advantage (there were disadvantages, too) of farm life when I was growing up was its integrated nature --- nearly everything was focused on the land, the seasons and living peaceably and as productively as possible within their cycles. What seems to be missing now is focus. The land imposed that, but we're increasingly detached from it.
Even our Amish neighbors, the acknowledged masters of traditionalism when it comes to rural life, tend to live these days on scraps of what once were family farms, now absorbed into large mechanized operations. They support their rural habits by working off the farm and operating dozens of sideline businesses and in the process, move toward scattered lives themselves.
I sometimes think of taking up meditation in order to think more about this. But who has the time?