A hundred years ago, most people in America lived on farms or in small towns. The farms were small by today’s standards and were tended by a family. These farms were to a great extent self-sufficient. They had hogs, cattle, and chickens for meat, milk, and eggs, a garden and some fruit trees. They raised hay and grain to feed the livestock and planned for some surplus of grain or produce to buy the things they couldn’t grow and to pay the taxes and mortgage. Horses, strong backs, and good neighbors powered these farms. The farm was more than a commercial venture; it was a lifestyle closely connected to the good earth.
The towns were the centers of trade for the surrounding area. They provided the things that could not be grown on the farm and provided a market for the surpluses raised on the farm. Other than the rural one-room schools, they were the centers for education and they were the social center for the surrounding area. The town and farms were mutually dependent on each other and they also shared a close connection to the good earth. This was rural America and the values that were basic to these farms and towns were what made America great.
Rural America inspired the American Dream. That dream included independence, freedom, and opportunity. It included a certain peace, serenity and satisfaction that came as a reward for honest effort. Contrary to today’s concept of that dream, it was of middle class proportions. It did not include continuous expansion, but rather of a farm that a family could manage, payoff a mortgage, and have a little to help the next generation. The merchants in those small towns did not dream of supermarkets and malls, but rather a business that would support a comfortable home and lifestyle. Both were content with comfort and security rather than great wealth and luxury.
Early rural America had a good work ethic. Most work was physically demanding and entailed a great deal of craftsmanship and society expected everyone to earn his keep. A certain amount of pride was the result of these expectations and laziness and poor workmanship were not acceptable.
A good work ethic included honesty and integrity and in a small close knit community, a good reputation was very important.
Rural America fostered strong family values. The whole family was needed to run the farm or business. These families worked together, ate together, and played together. As children, there were chores to do and responsibilities to be met. Meals required a great deal of preparation, so everyone ate at the same time. What today we label as entertainment was very scarce, so they played together in a spontaneous and unstructured way. There was the porch swing for summer evenings, board games and books for long winter evenings, and picnics for holidays. A strong family was almost necessary. Husbands needed good wives to maintain a good home. Wives needed good husbands to provide the physical strength needed on the farm or business. Children needed both parents to provide proper guidance and the necessities of life, because there were no institutions to do so, except as a last resort.
Rural America was religious. Much education was based on the Scriptures, Bibles were in almost every home and weddings and funerals were of a religious nature. In many cases, the church was the social center of a community and Sunday was regarded as a day of rest, worship, and family fun.
The influence of rural America was felt in the cities. Many in the cities had family roots in the country because parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles still lived on a farm. Because of the great numbers in rural America, it was even a powerful political bloc. The industries and commerce in the cities coveted the work ethic, which was a way of life on the farm. The rich soil and favorable climate of America allowed the farms to produce an abundance of food at a reasonable price, which allowed the middle class money available for a comfortable lifestyle.
Please understand that this description of rural America is prejudiced toward the positive. There were bad times down on the farm. There were times of bad weather and low prices. There was sickness, pain, injustice, sorrow, and death. Life, wherever it may be, includes all of these and, cruel as it may seem, such things are even necessary to form strong character. Bad times were a part of rural America but overcoming such obstacles only made it stronger. The value of any victory is determined by the strength of the opposition.
Sadly, we have lost much of our rural heritage. The ancestor on the farm is more often several generations removed. Even farms are specialized to the point they lack any resemblance to self-sufficiency. Transportation and communication has closely connected rural life to urban life and the American Dream has changed from independence, freedom, and comfort to ease, wealth, and luxury. We have lost our connection to the soil; even by many whom make their livelihood from the good earth. For these changes we suffer. Hopefully, the next few thoughts and experiences will be helpful in connecting us once again our very soul to our precious soil.