Rural Communities: Neighbors and Friends on the Family Farm

An Iowan talks about the role of neighbors and friends in her family farm's rural community as she was growing up

Content Tools

Neighbors and friends were an important part of rural communities, especially during the years when transportation wasn't as plentiful as it is today. Neighbors were relied upon for assistance in general farming practices, such as making hay, threshing, harvesting corn (especially when it was picked by hand), butchering, driving cattle, etc. Women depended on neighboring women for their social life as well as for assistance and support when serious illness occurred or there were "threshing" dinners to prepare.

My mother served as midwife to many neighboring women, assisting in the delivery of their babies. She seemed to be "on call" and certainly a "beeper" was unheard of then. The neighbor's husband or another neighbor came to request her services when that critical time came to deliver a baby in the home or to assist the doctor if he had arrived.

Farm women led a life of isolation but never wanted for something to do to fill their time. The daily household duties amply used the daylight hours, and when twilight arrived, it was indeed time for rest.

Visiting, cards and games were the entertainment when neighbors did get together for a few hours in the slack seasons. Before radio, telephone and television, you relished each bit of news learned from an afternoon or evening visit.

I recall when my brother contracted polio and was critically ill for weeks, a group of neighbors prepared a big box of wrapped gifts for him-he could open one gift a day for a month. We all benefited from the excitement each day of watching him uIiwrap the gifts that those neighbors so generously made possible.

In my pre-teen years, my mother made matching dresses for my friend, who was a close neighbor, and me. We delighted in dressing as twins occasionally. Her mother also made us another matching outfit to wear for church and school. We kids spent many long evenings at the Edwards' house playing Monopoly as well as outdoor games.

A means of earning spending money for a young farm girl was often to work as a "hired girl" for a neighbor who had illness or a new baby in the home. As I was the youngest of three girls, I didn't hire out as often as the older ones did. I recall my oldest sister working for a neighboring family with three boys and earning $1.50 a week. In my late teens I did some working out and baby¬sitting-50 cents a night was my earnings for baby-sitting.

I was hired by a neighbor to lead the "hay horse" one summer-I was usually a bit fearful of those big horses trailing so close behind me, but it was a means of earning spending money so I tried very hard to keep a step ahead of the horse. It must've worked since I don't have any scars to show, and the few dollars I earned were cherished.

One Halloween night we kids went to our dear neighbors' house to scare them. The man knew we were coming and put on a sheet and came flying around the corner of the house about the time we were ready to make noises to scare them. We certainly didn't waste any time leaving the scene. He laughed about that for years.

We all are blessed with idiosyncrasies or peculiarities and I recall a few of some neighbors that we still chuckle about today:

One family left their dinner plates on the table at noon when they had finished eating, so they could use the same one that night for supper-it saved washing dishes.

One family filled a big dishpan full with garden lettuce to place under the table, it was convenient for all to help themselves when they wanted some.

One mother, when the child grew tired of chewing his gum, would chew it until the child was ready for it again, and then return it to him. Remember, this was during the Depression so nothing was wasted.

Neighbors and friends are a delightful part of growing up in rural America. Those friendships and good deeds are responsible for many good memories!

Margaret Blair
Lorimor, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.