Author endeavors to preserve farm history through children's books
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 8:03 AM
Gordon W. Fredrickson can tell by the barn.
Author Gordon Fredrickson speaks to an audience at the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain Oct. 20, sharing how he endeavors to preserve farm history through his rhyming children’s books, the “Farm Country” series.
(Maybe it was the plumbing.)
"You could always tell a small farm by the barn ... the barn had running water and all the new things, but the farmhouse on a small farm came last. My parents finally were able to fix up their house in 1957, and the barn had running water and amenities for grade A milk in 1950. Both of my sisters were out of high school before we ever got an indoor toilet," said author Fredrickson, speaking to the gathered audience at the Fillmore County History Center (FCHC) in Fountain Oct. 20, sharing how he endeavors to preserve farm history through his rhyming children's books, the "Farm Country" series, modeled after Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "The Night Before Christmas."
He related, "It was never a great farm, but it was indeed a good home. We worked hard, never got rich at farming there, but it made a good home. My parents started with nothing, and I wondered, 'How many people do they represent? How many people started farms with barns built of secondhand, salvaged barn boards?"
Fredrickson noted that he had inquired with the state historical society about how the history of the very small farm would be preserved, but found that writing about the family farm was a firsthand opportunity for him to express his memories of growing up on one.
"I wanted to tell the story of the very small farm, of people who struggled from week to week, month to month, like my parents, who didn't have anywhere to keep their tools - we couldn't keep them in the barn because they'd rust too quickly - so we kept them on the side of the chicken house, and in the winter, we'd have to dig them out of the snow."
The author recounted Christmastime on his family's farm and how most city children believed that Santa came while they were asleep at night, but on the Fredrickson farm, the elf himself arrived during evening chore time so that he'd have plenty of time in the house without little ones underfoot.
He also recalled how "calves liked to be born during holidays," how at Halloween folks made their own candy to give out, and when children arrived wearing homemade costumes, the grownups "talked to us even though our parents weren't there."
Fredrickson's series of books features the Carlson children, representing his own family - he pointed out that the character "Jimmy Carlson" was the boy he used to be at 10 years old.
Fredrickson's books were originally self-published, but with that came some consequences that he felt would discourage 1950s farm history from actually being preserved in the manner in which he set out to keep it. Without a spine and a bar code, his books would remain a hobby, unable to be sold in book stores or placed in library collections, so he searched for an East Coast or West Coast publisher who would accept a manuscript from someone "who lives in a flyover state," but to his dismay, none of them were interested.
A small publishing company from Edina, however, took interest in his work because the owner, Milt Adams, had spent a year on his uncle and aunt's farm, and that year of work and play had grown on him like corn in July. Fredrickson's books are now in the process of being re-published and professionally illustrated, made available "to preserve farm heritage for people who want to know about it 100 to 200 years from now."
He reiterated the importance of passing on such history, as each of his books tells of how farming was done and teaches lessons of values and good character.
"In all my stories, I ask you to imagine a time that was not better, but pleasing, somehow," a time when integrity, hard work and a little spare change meant that the farmhouse might someday shine as nicely as the cow barn ... if nobody got in a hurry to ask for indoor plumbing."