There’s a certain kind of “Mama” I’ve come to grow pretty passionate about, so passionate in fact, that I’m nearly finished writing my second book about them! These two books are about a very special breed of women that have traditionally carried the title of “farmwives”.
January 13, 2016 was the day I realized a lifelong goal by publishing my first book: Farmwives in Profile: 17 Women, 17 Candid questions about their lives, Photos and Recipes. The four-and-a-half-year project was a labour of love for me where I delved into the lives of 17 traditional farmwives from Alberta (and one from Saskatchewan) that were between the ages of 55-90. I interviewed them and spoke to them candidly about their lives on their farms, what the hardest parts were, the best parts, what they hoped their legacies would be, and about advice, they could share for women entering farm life today. My specific goal was to hold them up and celebrate them for their remarkable contributions to their homes, families, farms and entire communities. I felt very strongly (and I still do now) that without these women doing all they did (and often times still do) these farms would not still be standing. These women are truly pillars and a crucial part of Canada’s Heritage. I wanted them to have the appreciation, honour and respect for their work and contributions.
Here’s a snapshot into just three of the women from my first book:
Age at the book’s writing: 84
Caption: Edith and her husband Albert Paul proudly show the letter they received from the Queen they received in honour of their 65th wedding anniversary.
When asked: “Was there anything that you would have liked to (or that you did) change (about your life on the farm)?” Edith jokingly replied: “Yes… A LOT of diapers!!!!”
Age at the book’s writing: 89
Verna Presley (above) is in her early 90’s now and when I asked her: “What is the hardest part?” about her life on the farm – she shared with me that:
I think the hardest part for me was all the hard work and long hours. I worked so hard that really didn’t take time to enjoy life. I would do it so much different if I had a second chance. I would take time to smell the roses and enjoy everything that I did. It is easy to say that now but at the time when you are trying to make a living for yourself and family, keep the bills all paid up it is hard to smell the roses. I would try to manage things so that the work was not so hard and the hours not so long.”
Age at the book’s writing: 82
Nothing makes me happier that I committed to this project and made it happen than losing our very first interviewee nearly three months ago. Maureen Anderson left behind her loving husband Stan and those of us lucky enough to know her can promise that she was successful in the legacy she had wished to leave behind:
When I asked her what that was, she told me: “Give of yourselves to help other people, take time to share and care for loved ones, volunteer to help others, be available to help those less fortunate”.
You can see interviews and more writing on this widely-celebrated project here.
It’s the next generations turn as I complete the interviews now and finalize book 2 where I ask them their thoughts on the traditional word, role, and what farm life means to them as we move into the future. I’ve interviewed women from across Canada for this next book (due out early 2018) and their stories, lessons, and opinions about life will inspire and touch you no matter where you live!
Billi J Miller is a freelance writer, photographer + author who works from her home office on a 106-year old farm near Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada. She is convinced she’s found the work she is meant to do, and has no plans to stop telling the stories of inspiring Canadians. Billi continues to run her photography business + writes freelance for newsprint and magazines. You can find more of her work here.