Read Farm Girl Online

Authors: Karen Jones Gowen

Tags: #Sociology, #Social Science, #Biographies, #General, #Nebraska, #Biography & Autobiography, #Rural, #Farm Life

Farm Girl

BOOK: Farm Girl
Farm Girl
Karen Jones Gowen
WiDo Publishing (2007)
Sociology, Social Science, Biographies, General, Nebraska, Biography & Autobiography, Rural, Farm Life

Set in the Dust Bowl of the American West,
Farm Girl
, the true account of a child coming of age on a 1920's Nebraska farm, recaptures an era. Young Lucille Marker experiences survival during the Depression, one of the worst dust storms in history, and finally the disintegration of the close-knit community in which she grows up.

Readers who like the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Willa Cather will enjoy
Farm Girl
. Set in the locale of the Willa Cather Nebraska novels, it includes a chapter about the Marker, Cather family connections.

Richly photographed throughout with over sixty authentic photos documenting the people and places of the story, this historical, easy-to-read small book is suitable for use in the classroom.

"Omitting sensationalized incidents and graphic sexual exploits, the book perfectly captures a young woman s coming of age in the early decades of the 20th century. It concerns real life, relatively ordinary activities, drawn with the precision of a Norman Rockwell painting." ~
The Omaha Reader

"Through the intertwined stories of the life of the Marker family and of the broader historical time period, the book is more than captivating. Gowen s vivid account of her mother s life allows
Farm Girl
to read as seamlessly as if one were recalling personal memories." ~
The Holyoke Enterprise

" A gift from the heart in which family is prominently featured." ~
Aitken Independent Age

Farm Girl
presents a vision of life on a Nebraska homestead during the 1920s and 1930s, told from a child s perspective, and illustrated with photographs of the time." ~
Quincy Herald Whig

Farm Girl
will capture the interest of readers in the photos the book contains and witty recollections Lucille has of her grandparents in Catherton Township." ~
The Red Cloud Chief

"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother s story to life." ~
Homespun Magazine

"Easily as good as Carol Ryrie Brinks
Caddie Woodlawn
Farm Girl
is beautifully done and should be a treat for anyone who loves reading historical books. It is a book that reaches out and touches the common human experiences that everyone must go through. It is a treasure that will be enjoyed by the young and old alike." ~
McCook Daily Gazette

About the Author

Karen Jones Gowen grew up in central Illinois and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband. They are the parents of ten children. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University with a degree in English and American Literature. She has published children's stories and essays on family life, as well as two novels,
Uncut Diamonds
House of Diamonds


WiDo Publishing
Salt Lake City, Utah

Farm Girl
Copyright © 2007 by Karen Jones Gowen and WiDo Publishing

Cover photo as well as most of the additional black and white photographs in this text are by Julia Marker.


All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including but not limited to reproduction by electronic, mechanical or other means, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written consent of the Publisher.

By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on your ebook reader. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now know or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission from the publisher.

Please do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. If you have obtained an unauthorized copy of this file, please contact
WiDo Publishing
to purchase a legal copy.

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Table of Contents

Copyright Information




Chapter One: The Walstads

Chapter Two: The Markers


Chapter Three: The New Farm

Chapter Four: Mother and Me

Chapter Five: My Pretty Cousin Catherine

Chapter Six: The Best Dad in Nebraska

Chapter Seven: The New Virginia Community

Chapter Eight: The Little Country School

Chapter Nine: Our Cather Connections

Chapter Ten: The Big City

Chapter Eleven: The Stock Market Crash

Chapter Twelve: A Sad Tale

Chapter Thirteen: Dust Bowl Days

Chapter Fourteen: Seven-Year Drought

Appendix A: Chapter Endnotes by Lucille Marker Jones

Appendix B: The Writings of Julia Walstad

Appendix C: Additional Photographs

“Home is where your story begins.”
(From a plaque hanging in my house, author unknown)


I want to express my appreciation to my daughter, Karen Gowen, for her interest in my early life and for her skill and effort in writing this book. The part about my life was done entirely by telephone conversations over a period of several weeks. She, in Salt Lake City, would ask me a question to get my memory started; then she wrote on her computer what I, in Aitkin, Minnesota, told her over the telephone. It was a very enjoyable process as she encouraged me to recall happenings I hadn’t thought about for years.

It has made me realize more fully how drastically times have changed for children growing up today. Perhaps this will serve a purpose in helping my grandchildren and others understand history a little better as they realize how very different conditions were for my childhood on a Nebraska farm in the 1920’s and 1930’s than what they experience now. Then, too, how much progress and improvement there was in 1920’s farm life compared to the time of my mother’s childhood in a sod house on a prairie homestead in the 1880’s. After all, history is just the story of people’s lives.

To me, my life has been very ordinary and typical of others in our community of that era. It is rather humbling to think that anyone other than family would find much interest in my experiences. Nevertheless, I am thankful to Karen for believing that these memories are worth saving.

—Lucille Marker Jones


Since the nearest neighbors lived two miles away, Grandma didn’t keep blinds at her windows. The spare bedroom faced east, and a flood of morning sunlight woke me much earlier than I was accustomed. But I didn’t mind because it felt so pleasant to lounge in the high old-fashioned bed and remember where I was.

How quiet and peaceful it seemed here without the early traffic noises of city people rushing to work. Instead, I heard the gentle low of cows in the field, the occasional crow of a rooster, and old Pet whinnying for her breakfast. I snuggled up to the great fluffy pillow and lay still, watching a mild breeze play with the yellowed lace curtains—back and forth, in and out—until I had nearly hypnotized myself.

Soon the clattering of pans in the kitchen downstairs warned me that Grandma had started breakfast, and I’d better get up if I wanted my eggs hot and my bacon crisp. The faded linoleum, patterned with large pink roses on a beige background, felt smooth on my feet as I climbed out of bed. I quickly pulled on my shorts and top. The appetizing aroma of frying bacon was beginning to prevail over the usual musty smell of the house.

After breakfast I ran outside into the summer sunshine to explore the farm and see if everything was the same as last year. Grandma’s two-story frame house seemed as grey and bent with age as she was. Tall bushy pines and spreading cottonwood trees crowded the sides. Her front yard was like a cool, shady forest, a perfect place to escape from the hot summer winds that blow relentlessly across the Nebraska plains.

I sat on the porch steps, drinking in the tangy pine scent that always reminded me of camping in the Rocky Mountains. A magpie chattered angrily from its perch on the low branch of a cottonwood tree. These brazen birds frightened me because Grandma had said they once swooped down on one of the farm cats and pecked its eyes out. I decided to go around back.

Outside the back door there struggled a patch of heat-singed, windblown grass that gradually thinned out into the well-worn dirt road that led to the barn. As I ran, my feet kicked up dusty smoke signals behind me.

I looked out over the pasture toward the pond. The green meadow rolled forward in dips and hollows and hills just right for running. The cow pond was barely visible from where I stood. It looked like a narrow slit of mirror set in the ground. I knew that between here and there were many inviting patches of buffalo grass, a tender grass that grows short and dense and feels softer on bare feet than the best carpet.

Such are my memories of the farm where my mother was raised and where I spent many summers. The house, barn and outbuildings are gone now. Even the great trees, planted and nurtured so carefully by her father John Marker, have been cut down to make room for crops. A person traveling that road today would see unbroken fields of corn growing where the farmhouse once stood. There would be no clue to the passer-by that here once stood a home, a farmstead, the hub of a hard-working Nebraska farm family.

Yet I can visit that place any time I wish by calling up rich and vivid mind pictures of my summers there. These memories are part of my heritage, the fabric of my personality, and as real to me as the land itself. I can remember the summer visits exploring the farm, riding Pet, the gentle old horse, to the New Virginia Church and back; flying down a hilly dirt road in a little red wagon, then making the steep climb back up to have another turn. In the winter, my sisters and I ice-skated on the pond while our parents built a fire next to the banks for us to warm up and roast hot dogs. We didn’t dare let Grandma Marker know about the bonfire, because she was deathly afraid of prairie fires blazing out of control, even in the winter with snow on the ground.

Still, as I grow older, my childhood memories begin to fade and I yearn to somehow revisit the Marker home. For many years, I longed to write a book about my mother’s childhood on the farm, to somehow capture the reality of it in print. The few attempts I made were dismal failures, as I realized I knew absolutely nothing about the daily life on a 1920 Nebraska farmstead.

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