Recently I attended the wedding of a neighbor girl who grew up on a farm, and a local community boy. They were (well, still are) both superior athletes (she in high school and college volleyball and he in high school and as a lineman in a SEC football program), college educated and employed.
Although both are now capable adults, in our rural communities we proudly think of them as “our girls and boys.”
Marilyn couldn’t attend the church service and the reception at the bride’s family farm with me, for she was visiting our grandchildren and their parents in Utah. I had the happy duty of staying home to keep our farmstead functioning and to represent us at the joyful celebration with people we care about.
As might be expected in the middle of July, the weather was hot and sweaty for the reception at the farm, and the way corn and soybeans like it. Most of the farms in the neighborhood received a nice rain varying from .05 to 1.5 inches the night before, which contributed to the humid air.
The amount of precipitation in my rain gauge was the envy of all the neighbors I talked with, so I was accused of everything from not having emptied out my rain gauge for the past month to visiting the refreshment bar at the reception too frequently.
The reception was carried out with exquisite organization. Adolescent boys directed visitors where to park our vehicles on the immaculately groomed (no pun intended) farmstead.
The barn where the reception was held was thoroughly scrubbed. Decades ago horse sales were held in the farm building.
It was where Dad purchased a treasured quarter horse filly at one of the horse sales the bride’s paternal grandfather held annually. Dad, my brothers and I broke and rode Samantha for many years; my brother, who farms nearby with his wife and sons/daughters-in-law, nurtured Sam for most of her 37 years.
The food, the congratulatory speeches, the camaraderie and the music for the dance were gladdening. The celebration demonstrated some of what is best about living in a rural community.
Marilyn and I were married some 43 years ago in a small church in Burley, Idaho, also with mostly our families, local farmers and neighbors of Marilyn’s family in Burley, my Iowa kin and our graduate school friends present.
Marilyn made her own wedding dress and I helped her with the bridesmaids’ dresses when another set of hands was needed. Marilyn and I sang together while I played the guitar at our reception.
We didn’t receive the refrigerator, furniture or honeymoon money that some newly wedded couples received at local receptions I attended as a youngster. Already in our mid-twenties, Marilyn and I were given what we needed: practical gifts we didn’t already possess and the blessings of the people we respected.
We used the log chain that I keep in my Jeep to pull many a stranded vehicle out of snowbanks and mud holes, as well as to salvage our own stuck vehicles a few times. The spade and chain saw were useful too; I still have the spade but wore out the chain saw.
The heavy cast iron skillet, pressure cookers and jars for canning, a portable camping stove we used on wilderness ventures and when electricity was suspended, small kitchen appliances—they went a long ways toward making our lives easier over the years. We recall who gave us these thoughtful gifts with happy memories every time we use them, even after we had to replace some of them.
Rural neighborhood celebrations like weddings, grand openings of new businesses, farm house-warming parties, even funerals–they all are cultural ceremonies that bind farmers and rural community neighbors together to celebrate the continuation of life.
Neighbors look past any differences such as political opinions, wealth, ethnicity and religion, while recognizing deeper bonds, like common agrarian roots, appreciation for being able to count on one another, and friendship, as purposes to get together. These rituals have deep meaning for everyone.
These rural community events affirm our heritage as people closely tied to the earth and each other for validation and survival.
Urban communities within cities and suburbs have their cultural heritage events too, for the residents of established neighborhoods retain their genetic, sociological and historical predispositions from bygone eras when we all were rural dwellers.
Block parties, church parish picnics and festivals, community music concerts, plays, local art shows and craft fairs are examples of how modern society expresses our earlier agrarian bonds. We need these events to maintain our ties of dependence on one another.
We can’t escape the agrarian imperative and tribal roots of our past when we hunted and farmed together for survival. If we think we can ignore these roots we might not survive in today’s hubbub and during future threats.
Dr. Mike is a Harlan, Iowa psychologist and agriculturalist. He can be contacted at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.