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May 7, 201311:49 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Toasting America’s backbone: How the greatest generation of my farm family helped till the soil for all of us

(page 1 of 2)

Grandpa J.M. and Grandma Rose (third and fourth from left) and their nine children in 1941.

She washed, ironed, sewed, canned, and cooked. She milked cows and raised chickens, geese, and ducks. She planted, hoed, and stripped tobacco; shocked grain. She was pregnant a good part of the time, bore nine babies, and stayed up with them at night when they were sick. She had the older children bring the babies out to the field so she could nurse them.

That was my Grandma Rose, born in 1885 as one of 11 children herself. She did all this through the Great Depression, which started on the farms of Wisconsin right after World War I – before Social Security, farm subsidies, or unemployment insurance.

She never gave up, even when it appeared that all might be lost. “The only time I saw her cry was when Johnny set the barn afire when he was 4 years old, in 1926,” Aunt Burdette wrote before she herself died last year at age 94 – besting Grandma by one year.

If there happened to be no meat in the house, Mother would catch a chicken, wring its neck, and chop it off with a butcher knife. It was dipped into a kettle of boiling water to soften the feathers, then stripped, disemboweled, and cut into pieces before being fried in a skillet atop the wood stove.

With a large brood of chickens on hand, the eggs were collected ... and taken to the grocery store to be bartered for needed groceries. We often had cartons of baby chicks, ducks, and geese in the kitchen behind the stove when the weather was too cold for them to survive in the henhouse. Mother always kept one ear alert for raccoons and foxes. If loud cackling was heard, she would brave the night to see what had caused the commotion. It seems I saw our mother in overalls more than in a dress.

Neither Grandpa J.M. nor Grandma Rose attended school beyond eighth grade – both in one-room country schools, where I began my own education.

There were continuing fights over education between our mother and dad – he felt it was useless, especially for the five girls, who would marry, and as soon as the four boys were able, they were needed on the farm.

Many times these fights took place in the barn while the cows were being milked. On summer evenings when the doors were open, we could hear our dad yelling and cursing about education. Dad would end up saying, “Well, if you insist on bankrupting me, go ahead.” 

Even so, or perhaps because of Grandma’s insistence, Grandpa made sure his children got to school. 


Old to new | New to old
May 7, 2013 02:13 pm
 Posted by  coolkevs

Thank you David - that was great!

May 8, 2013 07:05 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

The Great Depression started in 1929, not right after WWI. During WWI, there were things like meatless Mondays or Wheatless Wednesdays in order to keep allies and the troops fed. In fact the farmers were in demand in Wisconsin because the US had lots of food to share. After the War, there wasn't the demand overseas, there was the epidemic of 1918, there was a drought in Green Bay area from 1920-1925, not the Sun Prairie area where your family is from. There was the Milk Strike, but farmers had it better than city folk during this time because they had food available and they had feed and flour sacks which they made clothes. Farming is very hard physical work, and many of the children are too lazy to work as hard as their parents causing many farms to be sold. Maybe the fact that people are more educated, they see they have choices, rather than always following their parents footsteps.

Your relative was an associated professor not a full professor as you stated.

You failed to mention that your relatives did community work with alcohol and other drugs (ie mental illness), were involved with DPI and even public school educators, state and union workers. Not only did they look out for members of the community outside of their own famiy, like being in a pivotal role in completing the Interstate, extremely active with the World Dairy Expo, or volunteer for the fire dept. Unfortunately, our parents were the end of a generation that didn't put me first. Thanks to specific republicans, our generation refuses to see beyond their noses, and our children's generation are even lazier waiting for things to be handed to them.

Even the old family farm you speak of is no longer a working farm, but a golf course. Farm subsidies were put into place to help other farmers with supply and demand and encourage other farm owners not sell out for the next big money deal. This wasn't a handout as you think of it as but a economic supply vs demand situation.

May 8, 2013 07:56 pm
 Posted by  Meade

Wonderful story. Once again, David, you have done them all proud.

May 9, 2013 07:54 am
 Posted by  David Blaska

Thank you for presuming to instruct me on my own family, "Anonymous." That does take chutzpah! This piece originally appeared in the May print edition of In Business magazine where the word limit is about 800. So, yes, there is much more I could have written. You seem intent on making a political point about the selfishness of "specific Republicans." I hope you aren't talking about my many cousins and siblings who are Republicans or my late father and uncle. As dad would say, "I didn't leave the Democratic party; it left me."

I have lost track of the times, Logan, that you have repeated the canard that "the old family farm" is now a golf course -- including once on public radio. As I explained then, that golf course was built on one of the more marginal farms acquired by an uncle and the most distant from the home farm -- not that it matters either way.

And yes, the farm economy went into depression right after WW1 when farmers, who borrowed expensive money and geared up for expanded war production were left with reduced demand, declining commodity and land prices. You could look that up.

May 13, 2013 12:22 pm
 Posted by  Nebraska Barb

My grandmother was JM Blaska's sister - Anna Fisher née Blaska. I remember going to a wedding with my Mom and Grandma and your grandmother was well into her 80's and just dancing up a storm at the wedding. What an amazing woman! I'll never forget it because she was wearing red shoes! My mother also told me that when thrashing time would come, everyone would come to the farm and help. Your grandmother would serve lunch on the trestles in the yard, but instead of using oil cloth like the rest of the farmer's wives did, she put white tablecloths down. What a very special lady your grandmother was.

May 13, 2013 03:13 pm
 Posted by  David Blaska

Oooh, I have Grandpa and Grandma's 1909 wedding picture and there right behind them are Anna Blaska and Philip Fisher, your grandparents. J.M. and Anna, next in line, were especially close, I am told. Do call my office, Nebraska Barb, 608-204-9655, leave your number and I will call you back.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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