As I read Rural Free by Rachel Peden, I am reminded of the words to a song by singer/song writer John Denver: “Take me home, country roads, to a place I belong...”
For Rachel Peden, the country roads led to a farm on Maple Grove Road outside of Bloomington, IN. She grew up on a Monroe County orchard farm, and later attended Indiana University, where she earned a degree in sociology. She married Richard Peden in 1929, and after more than 10 years of marriage, the couple decided to buy a farm. Being a farmwife was not what Rachel had planned for her career, but she learned to love being on the farm. She wrote frequent letters to her sister, Nina, about her life on the farm, and these letters later became the basis for her regular newspaper column in the Indianapolis Star, a column that appeared four times a week. She wrote about her family, her neighbors, her garden, animals, both wild and domesticated, and also the changing rural landscape. She also wrote three books, Rural Free, The Land the People, and Speak to the Earth, which were published by Knopf, and reissued by IU Press.
Rachel Peden wrote with quiet joy and deep reverence for her home and her life on the farm. She had a unique voice and wonderful talent for describing the mundane aspects of everyday life in a way that made them shine. Even in our modern, high-tech world there is joy to be found in the simpler pleasures of life: home-baked bread and pies, a warm fire on a cold night, the way that frost makes the grass sparkle like it’s been dusted with glitter.
The book is organized by months and seasons, of which Rachel wrote there are “at least nine ... in an average year.” I love to pick this book up and read the chapters corresponding to the season outside my own window. This week I skipped ahead a bit and read:
As Christmas draws near the days become spinningly more crowded with the activities of preparation: shopping, wrapping gifts, writing cards, decorating house and church and school, delivering Christmas baskets, the gaiety of parties, cookie-bakings, church and school programs, homecomings of big families.
Finally the days become so full and commercialized that there is no room in the inn for any more thinking or straightening out of one’s personal beliefs.
Then comes Christmas Eve.
Everything has been done that there will be time to do. Now we leave the world to Christmas.
When finally the last carols have floated away into the starry darkness, the last good night has been said, the last wrapped package laid under a shining tree, there comes a small, quiet enclosure of time for every person to be alone with Christmas.
Why did we hurry so? Why did we worry about anything? What need we fear in the year that is about to begin?
A good reminder to myself to slow down and enjoy this time of year.