Entry 3

We were surprised today to get a visit from Ken Robinson, who was Moscow, Idaho’s assistant fire chief at the time of my house fire several years ago. He’d just been in Helena, Mont., and discovered me on the front page of the business section of the Independent Record. He went to the bother of buying several copies—a good excuse for a visit.

I haven’t seen Ken since he responded to my fire. After he left this morning, I went for my customary daily run/walk, remembering what it was like to rescue my sleeping daughter from a bedroom in flames and then watch my house burn. That grateful, close-call state of mind enlarges one’s take on life. Too bad it doesn’t last in its most vivid form.

Tomorrow night, Carol, my design director, and I will get started on the layout of my book. I’ve already picked out the section headings—Sewing Room, Grow It, and seven others—and posted those on clipboards in our auto-mechanics shop-turned-design studio. Whenever anyone here at the farm gets an idea, we grab the appropriate clipboard and write it down.

Today, for example, Taylor put a recipe for squash soup on the “Farm Kitchen” clipboard and a visitor, Jo Campbell, wrote down a recipe for starched clothing under “Cleaning Up.” I’ve been wanting to hand wash and starch some of my mother’s doilies, but store-bought starch these days contains suspect ingredients I don’t recognize. How did my mother and other women of her generation care for doilies? And what did doilies mean to them?

My mother’s doilies (and my brother Kent) in 1956

In old family photos, I see my mother’s doilies: big, white, and starched. In some of our old photos, you can see that the fuzz on the arms of the furniture is nearly worn away. But covering that “poverty” is a bright white doily, my mother’s successful attempt to brighten our lives. I remember her hands making them, and I remember vividly what she did when she laundered them, which was often because there were seven people in our household, so the one sofa and one overstuffed chair in our small living room got a lot of use. After she washed the doilies, she dipped them in starch and then pinned them to our carpet with a thousand little sewing pins, so that when they dried, they were perfectly stretched into full size, ready for the arms of our chairs.

Jo said last Monday she made a pot of beans for dinner along with a pot of rice. She is from southern Louisiana, where red kidney beans and rice is a traditional Monday meal. That’s because Mondays were washdays. On Sunday night, soiled linens were put into a galvanized tub to soak, along with soap shavings. Because washday left very little time for anything else, a pot of beans was put to boil, and eventually turned creole with seasonings. Toward the end of the day, after everything had been washed—with a washboard—women cooked a pot of rice, using a little more water than usual. The shirts, decorative collars, handkerchiefs, and doilies that needed to be stiff were dipped into the rice water, hung to dry, and then ironed or shaped.

Jo Campbell and Julie Bell discuss starched linens

Last week Jo did the same thing—added extra water to a pot of rice and then poured it out onto a plate and dipped a handkerchief into the liquid. “It stood straight up when it dried,” she said. This is book material for sure, I thought, along with a recipe for “Washday Rice and Beans.”

The final page of my next magazine was sent to my printer today, electronically. I’m printing 60,000 copies this time, up from 25,000 last issue. The success of MaryJanesFarm confirms some hunches I have about what women want and need. I continue to get dozens of e-mails from readers and customers that confirm my farm female 4-H theory. Here’s a recent letter.

I am a single mother of two boys, and have just bought five acres in Northern Nevada. I do not know exactly what all I am going to do with it yet. I have been planting pine trees; I picked up some chickens and I plan on getting a mustang; and next year, of course, a vegetable garden. I have an old mobile home that we have been fixing up. We put in real pine-board floors, and we are slowly turning it into a cabin. … Our latest project is a new front porch attached to our little humble trailer … to put my willow love seat and chair on. You have given me the courage to call my place a FARM. I think if women thought of their homes as farms, no matter what they actually are, it would change how they feel … Love, Nylene

Do I think Nylene’s place is a farm? Absolutely. “Farm girl” is a condition of the heart.