By Violet Eye
What is a FarmHer? The gender suggest it is a female, one who is responsible for maintaining and running a farm. The term is a modern one and refers to women who can manage and operate farm equipment and have a successful business from which to make a living.
There have always been women who would fit the category of FarmHer but just haven’t been recognized.
I would like to say my mom, Shelba Smith Rexrode, was a FarmHer in every aspect of the word during her life on the farm from 1940-2016. Mom was the second of 12 children born to Gordon and Lula Smith. She started helping her parents in the garden and on the small farm as a very little girl. Grandpap Smith would be gone most days looking for work or working for meager pay. A lot of the time he would be paid with something the person he was working for didn’t need and not money. This was during the “Great Depression” and making a living was hard for everyone. The Smith family made it through those hard years only to begin living a life almost unbearable.
In 1937 the last two children were born. Grandma Smith was weak and developed pneumonia, and in four weeks she was gone, leaving grandpap to raise 12 children alone. Mom was 17 and Aunt Glenna was 20 when they became mothers to the babies. In spite of these difficult days, Grandpap Smith raised his 12 children to adulthood.
Mom married at age 20 and she, along with daddy, Delbert Rexrode, started taking care of a farm for Mrs. Rebecca Hiner. There was no modern machinery and everything was done using horses and machines they could pull. The days were long and hard and daddy, along with hired help, did the farming part. Mom took care of the milking, chickens, household chores and providing three meals a day for the hired hands, plus two little girls.
The farm had cattle and sheep. Daddy took care of most of that unless a sheep was having trouble delivering lambs. Mom would help then and often did it by herself. When the situation would present itself, she would also help with the cattle. After the move to Highland County, Virginia, to another farm, mom started helping more with the animal part of the job. Daddy was asked by the Hiner ladies to oversee the running of two other farms as the people who had been living there left. The four of us kids were assigned certain parts of the chores and expected to do them. Daddy did have better machinery for the work, including a tractor, mower, baler and plows. He still used the horses to plow the corn field and garden. Hoeing and covering the corn was a hot back-breaking job, but my sister and I were expected to do it.
After my brother got out of the Army he bought the farm at Doe Hill, Virginia, where we were living. The Hiner ladies decided to sell all of the farms they owned, except the one on which they lived. My brother started working at First and Citizens Bank in Monterey, Virginia. Daddy and mom continued to take care of the sheep and cattle and do the haymaking. Corn was grown for silage and didn’t need attention after planting.
I would help daddy with the feeding when not in school. Mom would help when we were at school and this was an everyday thing. A person doesn’t take a day off when taking care of animals in the winter time. They would leave the farm in mid-morning and go to the other two farms, getting back to the house after lunch. Mom would throw the hay off the truck or would drive while daddy threw the hay. Many was the time we ended up in a snow drift and would have to shovel the truck out! Mom could drive the tractor and helped daddy on occasion with the haymaking.
As daddy’s health started to decline, that left mom to take care of the sheep during the lambing season. Mom got up nightly and went to the barn to check the sheep, regardless of the weather or for her own well-being. If she found trouble, she would go get daddy to help her. Daddy still saw to getting the hay made and working the cattle. Mom, not only saw to the sheep at home, but was called on many times to help deliver the baby lambs for the neighbors. The family sheep were sold after daddy could no longer help with them. My brother saw to taking care of the cattle.
Farm life is not an easy way to make a living and was quite the challenge for this farm team. I know there were times if mom hadn’t been there to help him, daddy couldn’t have completed the chore needing attention. As she got older, nearing 90, and daddy already gone, mom would keep an eye on the cattle during the calving season. If a cow had trouble, she would call on neighbors for help as she no longer went in with the cows. Farming is a hard, back-breaking job and requires a lot of patience, strength, determination and the ability to deal with losses and setbacks when they come, and they will come.
Sheba Rexrode lived all of that during her married life while raising four children to adulthood that are well-mannered, respected and hard workers. The same can be said of her seven grandchildren, who all enjoyed being at gram’s house.
I think it is safe to say my mom was a FarmHer beginning at age 20 and going until age 95, over 75 years. Yes, she continued to keep an eye on those cows until her death in 2016.