The following excerpt is from “A Family Farm: Life on an Illinois Dairy Farm,” a new book by Robert Switzer, professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Illinois.
By the time I formed my first memories of my grandparents from 1946 onward, they seemed rather old and exhausted to me, worn out by years of hard work and living under harsh conditions. Grandma Allison was painfully thin and short of breath, often stopping and sighing. She had lost much of a lung to tuberculosis years earlier, but Grandpa Charlie said with pride of their years on the farm, “She could work like a man
She wore her gray hair in a severe bun at the back of her head and preferred loosely fitting dresses in gray or lavender. She had a long thin face and rarely smiled. Indeed, I don’t believe that she was a happy person. Formidable as she was, it was difficult to feel close to her, although she was fond of her grandsons and occasionally expressed her affection by inviting us to take a lemon drop or a mint from a glass candy dish on a Victorian sideboard.
She spoke of the 30 years that she and Grandpa had operated the Orangeville farm with a mixture of pride and resignation, as though it were a mountain climbed or a prison sentence served in full. “Thirty years!” she would pronounce, as though that said all that was needed.