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A Family Farm: Life on an Illinois Dairy Farm Hardcover – May 15, 2012
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As one might expect from a renowned scientist (Switzer recently retired from an illustrious career as Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Illinois), the material is well researched and clearly written with helpful supporting data included to give the personal narrative a broader context. The hardships endured by the pre- and post-war generations, their resolute work ethic and steely aversion to debt as they applied themselves with their limited technology to working the land and raising a family, are in stark contrast to the way we live our lives today. These along with his own hardships, the troubles of growing through adolescence into adulthood on the farm, and their impact on family relationships are respectfully told through the eyes of one who has lived an examined life and carefully observed the lives of others. Also included is an account of the underlying emotional distance that Switzer sees between his parents despite their outward appearance of spousal devotion so much expected in the time and place. His love and care for them as they each pass from this life are unmistakable.
Even though he decided to move away and live a more urban and scholarly life, Switzer keeps himself and his growing family connected to the farm and his parents. As adults, his children return on several occasions to visit their aging grandparents and develop their own relationships with them and the land, detailing this with richness and sensitivity in their own words in portions of the book.
Near the end of the narrative, Switzer gives a moving account of finding himself sobbing uncontrollably in an empty upstairs room of the farmhouse on the day it was sold. He experiences a profound sense of loss, one that cannot be undone but only observed and coped with like the many other currents of life that sweep us along without our knowing until one day we look back.
I thoroughly enjoyed this suburb generation-spanning story.