For more than 20 years, Nellie Witt Spikes wrote a newspaper column, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” for several West Texas weeklies in and around Crosby County, east of Lubbock – from 1937 at age 49 until 1960.
Selections from those columns have been collected into a delightful book edited by Geoff Cunfer and published by Texas Tech University Press under the title “As a Farm Woman Thinks: Life and Land on the Texas High Plains, 1890-1960” ($34.95 hardcover).
The columns are grouped into several categories, such as Settling the Llano Estacado, Small Town Life, Drought and Dust Storms, Women’s Work, and A Poetry of Place.
In the short, descriptive, conversational essays, Cunfer notes, “we find ourselves sitting next to Nellie on a friend’s porch, strolling down a dusty small-town Main Street, or trudging behind a rattling covered wagon across endless rolling prairie.
“Her articles,” Cunfer adds, “provide the reader with a window into life in a place and a time that has passed, but that established the cultural foundation of the modern southern plains.”
Nellie really had a way with words and a subtle sense of humor. A few random examples:
On drought and dust storms (1945): “This day, the twentieth of May, has been a regular March sandstorm. Our feelings seem as wilted as the things in the garden. No prospect of rain is in sight, and we farm people wait and hope and wait and hope; each day takes more toll on the moisture that was left deep in the ground.”
On modernization of farm life (1941): “My husband does not think he can shave unless his shaving things are on the dining table in the kitchen, although we have had a bathroom for over two years. We become creatures of habit about ordinary things.”
On the birth of a grandson (1938): “If I fill this space too much with news of the baby, I know the mothers will think it is all right and I hope the rest of you will excuse me.”\
On the beauty of autumn (1941): “I thought the president called in all the gold and it was buried safely deep in dark dungeons, but I have found this not true. Someone has hung gold leaves on the apricot tree, and I see gold dollars, fresh from the mint, hanging on graceful poplar and spreading cottonwood trees.”
And this one, published on March 30, 1939, on spring’s arrival in West Texas: “Spring is coming to the prairie country. Not with a breathtaking parade of beauty as she does in the timbered country, but shy as the antelope and the blue quail. She spreads a cover of pale green on the pasture and starts the wildflowers; gives the haze on the canyon hills a deeper blue; entices the killdeer back to call ‘dee dee dee’; swells the buds of the cottonwood trees, promises them millions of tiny fans. She waves her wand and peach trees are dressed in pale pink, pear trees in white satin; gives the freshly turned furrows a fragrance dear to folks on the farm; pins a corsage of sweet wild plum blossoms on her brown dress.”
The 288-page book is filled with piece after wonderful piece of lyrical prose about bygone days, accompanied by more than 40 black and white photos. What a treasure.