Johanna and the Wood Line

Art’s version:  A sad remembrance had to do with walking in the field with my grandmoher Johanna. When I was a little guy she took me out there and as we were walking she began to make a shuddering sound. When I returned to the farmhouse with her and my mother, I said to my mother privately, “what was that strange sound grandmother was making?” And my mother said, “Well, she knows winter is coming and she hopes she survives another winter here on the farm.

Judy’s version: She would go out in the fall before the snow flew and stand and look at the wood line and make this clucking noise. And Ines said when she was a young bride it scared her to death. What was this women doing? So finally after she got more comfortable she asked her and Johanna said, “Well, I’m getting old now and I’m wondering if this the last winter I will ever spend so I’m taking in this wood line, how it looks so I can remember it all winter.

how do you tell your stories?

I am fascinated by these two accounts of the same activity. In separate interviews, without any prompting, my parents each describe Johanna clucking at the wood line. Their accounts share similarities, but the differences between them highlight my parent’s contrasting approaches to storytelling. My mom liked to embellish details and to craft stories into meaningful rituals. My dad, a trained historian, likes to report facts. Their accounts make me curious. Is this the same story? Did Johanna cluck every year? My mom imagines it as a ritual, a yearly event. While my dad sees it as a singular, sad memory. How do their different ways of telling the story shape our understanding of the situation? How do their different relationships to the farm (Dad was born on it, Mom married into to it) shape how and why they tell the story?

Did Johanna cluck every year or just once?

When I first posed this question last year, I intended it to be rhetorical, serving as a way to highlight the differences between my parents’ storytelling approaches. I didn’t expect to find an answer. In fact, I wasn’t looking for one. But, while re-watching some footage of Art discussing his grandmother Johanna’s death, I was struck by his description of her prolonged illness. Art remembers her being really sick when he was little (how little? 6? 8? older?). She didn’t die until he was in college. She could have been sick/dying for a decade or more. Did my dad witness one of the first instances of her clucking? If so, how many years did she go out into the field with Ines (mentioned in Judy’s quotation and her video clip below), imagining it might be the last time she’d ever see that wood line?

Art and Judy each discuss Johanna and her death.

I like putting these two versions of the similar story beside each other. Thinking about them together heightens my curiosity about my great-grandmother and her life on the Farm.