Happy 10th Anniversary – Growing Up Country – Memoir
By Carol / January 2, 2018 /
I turned on the car radio last week and was surprised to hear the announcer introduce me. The Iowa Public Radio interview, which focused on growing up in Iowa, had aired in October. The now-taped interview fit for the holidays. I smiled at the timing since I published my memoir Growing Up Country, Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl 10 years ago this month.
When I published my memoir, I had few expectations other than that my mother would read it, and she’d make sure all her friends did. This was, after all, a collection of simple stories about my life growing up on a family farm, in the middle of the United States, in the middle of the 20th Century.
The reception my memoir received surprised, encouraged, and humbled me. I learned quickly that my life mirrored the lives of many who grew up on farms or in rural communities. As people read about my life, they recalled their own stories. Not only did they remember their younger years, but they also shared those stories with others in their families, and with me.
Hearing from readers
Connecting with readers was an incredible gift. People were eager to share, and they did – at readings; through letters and emails; on the phone.
At my first launch event, a woman said, “People always ask me what it was like to grow up on a farm. Now I’ll just give them your book. You described my life.”
After reading the chapter about my 4-H demonstration, a 95-year-old woman wrote to share in great detail her own 4-H project, an experience from which she’d learned much but about which she hadn’t thought in decades.
A 70-year-old man told me he didn’t grow up on a farm, but he started his Saturday mornings as a child watching “Modern Farmer” on TV at 5:30 a.m. He continues to go to county fairs each summer and gets milk delivered from a local dairy.
A 14-year-old boy wrote to tell me his great-grandmother loved the book and encouraged him to read it because he liked learning about “things that happened way back when.” I chuckled because I didn’t think about my childhood as history, though I guess it is.
Earlier this year, I heard from a woman (who’d grown up in Iowa but now lives in Alabama) whose niece (who lives in South Carolina) gave her a box of books a friend was giving away. Among the books was an copy of Growing Up Country. When she finished reading it, she planned to share the book with relatives who still live in eastern-Iowa.
That may be one of the most-traveled copies of my book. Or maybe not. I heard from a young woman studying in England and another working in China. Their families sent copies of Growing up Country to remind them of home.
The woman in England took issue with a point I made in the epilogue. I said times had changed, that kids today don’t have the same experience growing up that kids of our generation had. She begged to differ. Even though she’d grown up in the 80s, she’d still worked closely with her family on daily chores, cared for livestock, and valued the land. The country values I grew up with remain, a realization that makes me so happy.
Preserving everyday stories.
Readers showed me the importance of preserving our everyday stories. My stories are simple, but that’s what our lives are most of the time. Getting meals on the table. Getting kids off to school. Doing the work each day that needs to be done. These simple, everyday actions are what bind us together. They create our society. In town or in the country. Understanding this, at each book talk, I encourage people to save and share their own stories.
The past 10 years have shown me the enduring value of good stories. The value of everyday stories. A decade ago, I did not imagine that readers would still be reading Growing Up Country. But I’m glad they are. And I’m glad they continue to share their memories with me.
How are you preserving your growing up stories? How do you share them with your family?
To listen to the entire “Talk of Iowa” interview, follow this link.
Congratulations on the 10 year anniversary of your book, Carol!
As you said, it is a gift to hear from readers. Although my novel is not a memoir, I, too, have been surprised, encouraged, and humbled by the stories readers have shared as they connect with the book.
To your ending question: My grandfather encouraged family members to write down memories; I’m so glad he did! I have writings from three past generations; the earliest is from my great grandmother, who wrote about her fear of soldiers as a young girl in Ohio at the close of the Civil War; and how she could still taste the maple candy her father and uncles made during sugaring season. I can hear their voices; I learn about their world view; and I appreciate them passing along wisdom and stories. I’m following their lead, hoping to connect with great grandchildren I may never meet in person.
Thanks, Nan. Readers connect with a good story, whether fiction or memoir.
What a gift your grandfather gave you by encouraging family to write down stories. The closest I came to that was having a handful of letters my grandfather wrote while he farmed in Canada. Those were a valuable research resource for “Go Away Home.” Since my mother encouraged me to write “Growing Up Country,” I encouraged her to write her memories as I was writing mine. Now I have a notebook in her handwriting to cherish and to pass along to my son and grandchildren.
Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of your book, Carol! And what fun to turn on the radio to hear yourself!
It’s so wonderful that you’ve heard from so many readers and connected with them.
I wish I or someone had written down family stories, especially from my grandparents’ generation.
It’s always a surprise to hear myself. Really? I sound like that? Then I listen, wondering if I’ll agree with what I said.
Hearing from readers has been an unexpected blessing.
Letters and journals were the record of our grandparents’ generation. If we’re lucky enough that they survived. Now that so much is e-communicated, I wonder what future generations will be able to look back on. You’re writing your stories as poetry on your blog. Not for the first time will I encourage you to make those into a book you can put into your family’s hands. I’ve used Blog2Print to create a written record of my blog posts.
Congratulations on the anniversary of this great book.
Thanks Paulette. I look back on the last 10 years and find it hard to believe so much time and so many things have happened in my writing/publishing life. I never dreamed.
Congratulations on this milestone!
Thanks, Laurie. The journey has been filled with surprises, among them the opportunity to meet so many people like you. A pleasure.
I’ve always been a story teller. My sisters (who are all younger than I am) remember how I would come home from school full of stories and how we would sit together and I would read to them. Or quote poetry I read at school. I still recall how much I loved the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, and how I read it with great drama and flourish to my wide-eyed sisters! Now I tell stories to my grandchildren. Sometimes they say, “Oma tell that story again about…” other times they’ll say, “Oma, You’ve told us that story already a couple of times!”
Thanks for the hint about Blog2Print. Will have to try that.
I enjoy the image of you telling your sisters – and now your grandchildren – stories, Elfrieda. What a gift to you and them. “The Highwayman” lends itself to telling with drama and flourish. In one of the Anne of Green Gables episodes I’ve enjoyed watching repeatedly, Anne recites that poem to great acclaim. A good story bears re-telling, as your grandchildren know.
Congratulations, Carol, on the 10th anniversary of your book! How exciting. And, feedback from readers is an excellent reward and validation.
Unfortunately, my family hasn’t preserved any stories to pass through generations into the future. Both of my parents were born into fragmented families, and I think the memories were difficult for them. I write in my journal daily, and I’ve penned over 7200 pages since September 8, 2002. I hope that either my son or my niece will want to know how I’ve lived and the kinds of issues I’ve faced. I envy families who pass their life stories on to their children, grandchildren, and beyond.
I just finished reading Growing Up Country this morning. It is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it so much, I found myself reading smaller and smaller portions of the book as I drew near the end, because I didn’t want to put it down for good! This is just the kind of book that earns a permanent spot on my bookshelf, one that I will return to year after year. In my opinion, there just aren’t enough books like this out there! (One day I hope to add my own story to the small collection of farming/homesteading memoirs out there.)
My parents grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, and share stories very similar to those in your book. However in adulthood, they both abandoned the lifestyle in which they were raised, and so my childhood was very, very different. The only exposure I ever had to that lifestyle was on weekends when we visited my grandmothers, who each kept their gardens until the day they left this earth. My parents are divorced now and my father realized in retirement just how much he missed the lifestyle he grew up with…and today he grows all of his own food and lives without electricity! My mother still prefers her life of convenience foods and air conditioning.
And I…..I am following in my dad’s footsteps. My husband and I, together, are building a log cabin on 14 acres in the country, with the intention of building up a homestead. My only regret is that we got a late start…We met and married three years ago after having gone through divorces, so our children now range in age from 13 to 25 years old. I would have loved to raise my children from birth in the life we are building for them now, but since I couldn’t, I plan on squeezing as much experience as I can for them into the years they have left at home.
Thank you for your stories! They both inspired me and me smile. Congratulations on the 10 year anniversary!!
What a delight it was for me to read your message, Christine. It took a while for you to find the life you love – as it does for many of us. But now you have. Congratulations! I’m delighted that my stories resonated in such a positive way with you. I hope they inspire you to begin writing your own memoirs sooner rather than later. Our everyday stories deserve to be preserved.
All the best to you. Thanks for reading and taking the time to tell me.
I recently discovered your book and just posted reviews. Loved it!. I’m a city boy but spent all my summers on my Uncle and Aunt’s farm in South Dakota and currently writing a trilogy based on my family in the 1930s, 40s, 50s. Little House meets The Waltons. Your book provided some valuable info.
Hi, Darren, So happy you found my book. Thanks for reading and writing reviews. I love the concept of your trilogy. Collecting family stories is so important. I applaud your efforts and wish you well.