The Prairie Woman
Can you mix bleach and diesel in the washing machine? A farm wife's guide to laundry.
A month or two after I got married, I started a blog. I shared random stories of my new life as a farmer’s wife, including a tale of cutting wood for our woodstove with my new husband, with snotsicles forming on my nose from the bitter wind and snow on the prairie. I even mentioned wanting to be the ‘Montana Pioneer Woman,’ a nod to Ree Drummond, my newfound inspiration. But my moniker would be The Prairie Woman to acknowledge the vast Montana prairie that our farm and ranch are on.
Spoiler alert: I am not rich nor famous, and I do not have my own TV show or cookbook coming out.
Months after my wedding and starting my blog, I read her book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, and learned how much Ree and I actually had in common. We share a wedding date, September 21st, although she was married years before Rich and I even met. I related to so many of her stories—from life in a city to being thrust into life on a ranch upon meeting her Marlboro Man in a smoky bar in Oklahoma. In my story, swap out meeting at a bar for a crisp fall day at a football tailgate in Montana for my farmer and me. The smoky bar story came a couple of weeks later when I brought Rich to meet my family for the first time, and smoking was (is!) still allowed in some bars in Wyoming.
Over the years, I began writing less about my daily life on the farm and started taking writing workshops, worrying more about themes and metaphors and proper endings. I wrote more about motherhood and less about manure. My writing improved, and I’m proud of many of the essays I’ve published over the years.
But I’ve wondered where does that leave me? Should I tell stories just about motherhood? Or stories about farm life? Can I tell stories that relate to women in agriculture and urban women? Can I tell stories about agriculture and motherhood at the same time? Or does it have to be one or the other?
Basically: How can I overthink this?*
Over the years, I’ve spent less and less time in the barn during calving with the addition of each baby to our family. In the beginning, I was there almost every day, occasionally pitching straw and helping push the new pairs out of the barn and into the pastures. Now, the big kids spend hours at the barn on the weekends with their dad, coming home covered in dirt and manure and smelling like the barn. But the toddler and I mostly stay home—save for the occasional meals I make for the calving crew. And I imagine this will change again as the kids get older, and I’ll find myself at the barn once again.
On the occasions I do stop by the barn, I like to give my unsolicited maternal advice to the crew (mostly men). One day, I walked into the barn and could hear the distinct sound of hooves pawing the dirt floor, along with the heavy breaths of a cow. I raised an eyebrow toward the direction of the sounds.
“That heifer over there is acting really wound up!” one of the guys said.
“Well, having had a baby myself, I can tell you, it is a lot! And this is her first one! Of course, she’s wound up!” I said. Then I walked out of the barn, my job finished—having spread my wonderful knowledge.
Recently, I watched my first c-section on a cow. The Prairie Woman version of myself from 10 years ago would have passed out cold on the straw and manure-covered barn floor. But, instead of passing out, I said, “I’m so glad I never had to have a c-section!” The guys laughed as they tucked the cow’s insides back in, the vet stitching her black belly back up.
But where do all these stories go? Do I need to tie them all up with metaphors for motherhood and marriage? Or should the stories live in my head, where I can laugh at my jokes and think I’m funnier than I am?
Or can sometimes a story be just that—a story?
Last week I heard myself saying, “If I put bleach in the washing machine after I washed the gas off your jeans, will it start a fire?”
My farmer replied, “First, it was diesel, not gas. But no. You’re good.”
It took a couple of cycles of bleach, but finally, the washing machine no longer smelled like gas. I mean diesel.
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Countless women live a rural lifestyle and do it better than me. Including many women who have their own milk cow, make their own cream and butter, and butcher their chickens. (Hard pass. I did it once, and they weren’t my chickens.)
Even though The Prairie Woman will likely never catch on, I want to keep sharing my stories—because I believe we all have stories worth sharing. And if Ree proved anything, stories about manure and kids have a place. It’s just figuring out what that looks like for me.
And I’ve learned that nicknames you try and give yourself
rarely never stick.
Like that time in college, I tried to give myself the nickname “Juicy.”
(But that’s a story for another day.)
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*I sat on this post for over a week. I scheduled it to publish, then canceled it multiple times. I changed the name to my Substack a couple of weeks ago… and wondered if I should have changed it to something else. But I think this is proof the name is fitting.
I love the new title and I love this and the direction you're going here with these meandering thoughts. Here's to not trying so hard. <3
Stacy I’m here for all your stories. Whether motherhood and farming and everything in between. Just keep writing.