Editor’s note: In June of 2018 The Land published a review of Barbara Kodet Mages’ memoir, “To Bechyn and Back.” The book is a reflection of Mages’ childhood during the Great Depression to her adult life. Mages is back with another offering, “Dandelion Salad.” Because “Bechyn” received such generous feedback from readers of The Land, Kristin Kveno gives us a look at Mages’ latest work.
It’s been said that the best things in life aren’t things. For Barbara Kodet Mages, writing down memories of her life as a keepsake for her family became vital over the years. The stories will be there for generations to read, to grasp what life was like ‘back in the day,’ farming the land, caring for animals and raising a family in southwestern Minnesota. Mages not only wanted her family to have these stories, but decided to fill a book with memories for all to enjoy.
Mages’ life stories are filled with faith and family. Life wasn’t always easy on the farm but her faith in God was woven through all the stories, even the ones that were filled with hardship. In her writings she seemed to be full of unending hope and positivity through it all.
The latest book by Mages, “Dandelion Salad,” is a collection of short stories and starts where Mages’ first book “To Bechyn and Back” left off. Her first book recalls Mages’ early life up until her marriage to her husband, Alphonse.
Mages and Alphonse married in 1946 and began farming in Morton, Minn. Life wasn’t always easy on the farm. Mages recalls some tough winter storms, no indoor plumbing and a shared party line with 14 other neighbors.
The theme throughout the book is the dedication the Mages family had to the farm, their faith and to each other. There was a sense of unity when dealing with the adversities that they faced.
Each of the short stories began with “Remember when.” The stories tell the tales of life raising 16 kids out on the farm. Mages and Alphonse first started farming in Morton, Minn. but knew that they wanted a large family and when they grew out of that farm they found the perfect fit on a farm in Sleepy Eye, Minn. and raised their 16 kids there.
The stories are wonderful tales of a different time and place. Plus, some of the stories are just darn entertaining, like the time in 1982 when Alphonse won $7,000 and a ceiling fan on the game show, The Price is Right. His winnings made the front page of the Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch. Ever the practical farmer, the $7,000 went for a new bailer and feed wagon for the farm.
If you’re from the Sleepy Eye and Morton areas, you’ll find lots of nostalgia about the people, places and an occasional animal or two from there.
Mages writes about an orphaned lamb that was given to the family to care for when living on the farm in Morton. The lamb was bottle-fed from glass pop bottles and quickly became a family favorite. The lamb got away in a snowstorm and the hunt was one to find the little guy before he froze, thankfully he was discovered hiding from the howling wind and snow under a lilac bush. He was sold that next year but the wonderful memories of the lamb remain fresh for Mages even after all these years.
The St. Patrick’s Day blizzard on March 17, 1965 not only brought about snow, and lots of it, but it also brought a new Mages baby into the world. The race was on to get to the Redwood Falls hospital six miles away before the baby arrived and before the roads became impassible. Alphonse, Mages and their son Danny made it to the hospital but with the snow coming down hard, they had to drop off Mages off at the hospital and head back to the farm. Mages gave birth to son, Michael Patrick, the middle name is an ode to that memorable day. Mages recalls that in the snowstorm a woman in labor that lived just six blocks from the hospital had to be picked up by the snowplow from her home and brought to the hospital. It was quite a blizzard. Mages was snowed in at the hospital for days until Alphonse could pick her and baby Michael up.
Each story that Mages shares evokes wistfulness of days gone by. Where technology was limited at best, and families worked side by side to harvest the crops, care for the animals and take care of the home.
Mages tells stories of the many family gatherings over the years including the annual summer picnic which has been going on for 50 years and counting. From family baseball games to the beloved annual sisters’ weekends. Gathering together seems to have always been an integral component of the Mages family and remains so even today.
The back pages of the book are filled with photos of family and special occasions. It ties the people together with the stories and is a great addition to the book.
The title of the book is “Dandelion Salad,” a dish that the Mages family would make frequently. The dandelions were mixed with bacon, radishes, cucumbers and red onions with a dressing of hot bacon drippings and vinegar, all coming together in making the salad a hit. The use of dandelions found around the corn cribs and in the road ditches, made an excellent salad year after year. Taking what is available and making the best of it, was a theme found throughout the book.
If you yearn for stories of life on the farm, adventures with a large family and some interesting tales, then then grab a copy of “Dandelion Salad.”
“Dandelion Salad” is available in Sleepy Eye at the following shops: Schutz Family Foods, Randy’s Family Drug and Nex-Tu-Nu II.