Carol Bodensteiner is the bestselling author of her memoir, Growing Up Country. It has captivated readers nostalgic for a simpler time as well as intrigued younger city slickers with what it was like to milk cows and mind your manners.
Your memoir covers the years when you were 8-12 years old. Why did you choose that period?
I didn’t make a conscious choice. Rather, I just started writing the stories that came to my mind and they were all from those years. As it turned out, though, they made a good package because they all happened when my life was focused in a smaller circle, including our family, the kids in our one-room country school, and the families in our little country church. No computers, limited access to a phone, TV that went off the air at midnight. Also, at that age, children start to experience the conflicts in the values they’re taught, making for memorable moments. Finally, on the farm, when we kids turned 10, we were considered old enough or tall enough or smart enough to start doing adult farm work. You bet I remember the first time Dad let me carry milk!
Yep, I remember when my dad had me wield an oil filter wrench. Does your family remember things the same way you do?
Memory is such a tricky thing. If everyone in a room at the same time wrote about what happened while they were together, they’d all write something different. We come to situations with our own perspective, life experiences, social frame. So, my family doesn’t remember many things I wrote about. On the other hand, they did remember some key things. For instance, my mother confirmed that we girls did carry 5-gallon pails of milk when we turned 10. And she remembered the time my little sister and I used one of her white sheets to catch mulberries we were picking. Imagine!
That's so true about families. Bet you got a scolding with the mulberry stains. What was the hardest thing about writing about your childhood?
When I started writing memoirs, someone commented that readers can tell if an author is not being honest in what she’s writing. I took that comment to heart and committed to telling the whole truth as I knew it, no matter what. So the hardest part was finally admitting to the world—and to my family—that I’d done some of the things I did!
But it made your memoir much more interesting! Growing Up Country is described as ‘memories of a happy childhood,’ yet you write about the hard work you did. Could all that work really have been something you enjoyed?
I know, I know. People who know farming say to me, “You grew up on a dairy farm. You worked hard!” In retrospect, I know we did work hard, but I really did enjoy it. Our parents involved us kids from the get go. If they were working in the garden, we were, too. If they were milking cows, we were there. Up to a certain age, kids really want to be around their parents. Because they always involved us, we simply saw work as something we did. We also saw that doing the work was important. When they let us work with them, our efforts were validated as important. What a great experience for a kid to have.
And it taught you the value of work and family. What has been the biggest surprise to you about writing your memoirs?
That anyone other than my mother cared to read them! Truly, there is nothing remarkable about my stories. They’re just images of everyday life on a family farm in the 1950s & 1960s. Yet I constantly hear from readers that the stories captured their lives and triggered such happy memories of them. And—here’s the best part—my stories cause them to remember AND share their own memories with others in their families. So family stories are being shared. I think that is great!
I agree. You had such a wholesome story to share compared to mine, growing up in the inner city. Do you think you’ll write more stories about farm life?
People encourage me to do that, suggesting to me that people are curious about that time in our country’s farming history—a way of farming that doesn’t exist much anymore—and also that readers can enjoy a ‘good news’ memoir. It doesn’t always have to be all trial and tribulation.
But at the moment, I’m working on an earlier time in Iowa history. I’m writing my first novel, historical fiction set in Iowa during WWI. I hope readers will find that just as interesting.
I'm sure they will! Thanks so much for chatting with us.
Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She writes regularly for The Iowan magazine (www.iowan.com) and blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment at www.carolbodensteiner.com She published her memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY in 2008 as a paperback and as an ebook in 2011.