Happy 10th Anniversary – Growing Up Country – Memoir
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.