Letters reveal farm family history and way of life

Author Sara DeLuca will bring the audience back in time, decades ago to life on a rural Wisconsin family farm, during an event from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 20 at Scout and Morgan Books in Cambridge.

Sara DeLuca
Sara DeLuca

An idea came about when DeLuca’s mother, Olava, gave her a pile of family letters that were saved over the years. Because most of DeLuca’s elders were story tellers, she also began interviewing, recording and writing down what they told her as a teenager.

“That material was extremely helpful in filling in the gaps between letters, as well as giving voice to the men in the family who were not letter-writers. Still, I did have some surprises. Some of the saddest events, the biggest losses and disappointments, were not discussed with the children. An honest accounting of any culture, any family, must be more than a lighthearted description of the good time and happy memories,” DeLuca said.

Eventually she would write her family farming story, which she felt was representative of the regional culture and history.

“I felt privileged to be entrusted with first-person accounts of the farming life my elders knew, much of it written decades before I was born. I transcribed the letters during the year I received them, but then put them away for many years, not sure how I could stitch them together into a book that would be of interest beyond the family,” DeLuca said.

In the meantime, the aspiring author put her time and effort into creating works of poetry. The experience helped her grow as a writer in many ways. Ready to return to nonfiction 20 years later, DeLuca found the letters and began the long, winding journey of writing and rewriting “The Crops Look Good.” DeLuca 2

The letters revealed the story of when Margaret Williamson (DeLuca’s aunt) left her family’s farm to work in Minneapolis in 1923. Olava wrote regularly with updates about daily activities: laundry, bread baking, plowing, planting and harvesting the crops. Sometimes she enclosed a note from 7-year-old Helen, who reported on school and all the fun she was having.

In “The Crops Look Good,” DeLuca shares family tales of births and deaths, of innovations like the automobile, radio and telephone that drew rural communities together, and of national and international events that were devastating. Many depression-era farmers struggled to keep their land and feed their livestock.

“In addition to letters and family interviews, I researched local and regional newspapers and magazines of the times (1920s to mid-1950s). I studied history texts and included national and world events to broaden the picture and give context to an intimate portrayal of family farm life,” DeLuca said.

The tale that emerged is one of fierce devotion to family and work. Readers can look forward to an intimate tour through life in the last century and reflect on their own experience, perhaps with some nostalgia, defined by returning home with pain. Younger readers might be surprised at how relatively recently modern technology came to farmers and rural residents.

“Hopefully, readers will reflect upon what we have gained over the past century, as well as what we have lost. Letters and diaries can provide an intimate view into life in another time and place – life written as it is being lived. Our modern methods of communication – quick and efficient, to be sure – do not often include the heartfelt accounting of daily events and personal reflections.  Surely that will be a loss to future historians. Most of all, I hope all readers will take away a better understanding of a way of life that has passed into history,” DeLuca said.

Scout & Morgan Books is located at 114 Buchanan St. N., Cambridge, and can be reached at 763-689-2474.