My mother, the early years

Jane Curtis

-Photo courtesy of Fortepan Iowa
Naomi Curtis, of rural Webster City, womans a Ford tractor in her impeccably pressed gabardine blouse and perfect makeup.

The photo you see here is of my mother in the early years on our farm.

That tractor she’s on? It’s the first thing I learned to drive.

Our farm was northeast of Webster City, in Blairsburg Township, in Hamilton County. I think the photo shared here is probably from the beginning of what I would call “the best of times.” Mom and Dad moved to the family farm not terribly long after they married. I remember her telling me those were wonderful days.

My brother, Leonard, and I remember the good times too: spring, getting off the school bus on the last day of classes, running up our muddy lane, changing into the old clothes we wore more often than not, and then eagerly wolfing down the cake or cookies Mom always had prepared.

Then we headed down to the ditches that lined the gravel road that led from our place up east to the high road, which has since become the Stonega blacktop. Just south of that intersection stood the white United Brethren Church my great-great- and great-grandfather helped to build. Want to see it now? It’s part of the Wilson Brewer Historic Park in Webster City. I’ve always loved its name: Mulberry Center Church. And I’ve always loved the community that was anchored around it.

In the spring, in those ditches lining the road that led up to the church road, the spring melt would be pooled pretty deeply in most areas, and that’s where my brother and I found another world.

Tadpoles.

Millions of them.

Frogs and toads.

Noisy little critters.

Our earliest science lessons were rooted in the laboratory in that ditch water.

My mother could call owls. Summer evenings, when Dad was on the golf course and she was home with my brother and I, she would sit on the top porch step and whistle in a way I never will. Eventually, she would get a conversation going. We delighted in the back and forth. Once, a whole family of screech owls flew up and landed on our clothesline maybe 40 feet away.

My brother and I hatched monarchs (yea!) and mosquitoes (boo!) There was a sweltering night one summer when the mosquitoes escaped the hatch lab. They created an angry cloud at the ceiling of our living room.

No one was happy then.

As the tadpoles must, they grew legs and moved to land.

My brother and I grew too. At a certain age, our gait up the muddy lane slowed and the eagerness to bolt down to the ditches waned.

I think those must have been the beginning of the end of “the best of times” for our Mom. I say this looking back, of course, because I was too immature to notice that our growth in some ways signaled to her a loss.

By our high school years, we drove to school, sometimes leaving Mom on the farm to wait for our family’s only car to be returned. She still baked like a fiend, and could she ever bake, but now I wonder if the love in those cakes wasn’t seasoned with a dash of loneliness.

At the end of my high school years, we moved to town.

I know it made Mom happy. She got a job. Walked a few blocks to work. Wore the nicer clothes I know she always wanted to wear.

But, looking back, I know she would not see those days with the fondness that she held for the springs when our lane was muddy and those ditches were a lab for her beloved kids.

Jane Curtis is editor of The Messenger.

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