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Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy

Dean Hulse
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Growing up in Westhope, North Dakota, during the 1960s and 1970s, Dean Hulse was surrounded by a thriving agricultural community. Family farms were the backbone of the local economy, and the small businesses lining the town’s main street provided the essentials of daily life. Since that time the small towns of the Great Northern Plains have witnessed severe economic decline as family farms have gradually been replaced by industrial agriculture. In Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy, Hulse recalls his idyllic childhood and adolescence in a small town that will look and feel familiar to many and movingly describes his failed attempt to carry on the family farm. Like many of his generation, Hulse discovers that the way of life he grew up with—one led by his parents and his grandparents before them—is threatened with extinction. Through a loosely chronological series of highly personal essays, Hulse delivers a strong critique of the destructive, shortsighted agricultural practices and economic policies that have led to rural depopulation throughout the Great Plains. Westhope poetically conveys Hulse’s lamentations for the people, cultures, and landscapes of rural North Dakota but is nevertheless optimistic in its outlook; as an activist, Hulse now strives to retain the essence of small-town life and to create new economic models that can revitalize and sustain it. His holistic vision for the future of rural America will inspire the many people working to make the good life—from the family farm to Main Street—a reality once again. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6822-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    I am a lifelong North Dakota resident, a farm boy, and yet I’ve spent fewer than half my years living on a farm. Our home sits in the midsection of North Dakota’s largest city. Although Fargo is not my hometown it has served as a vantage point for my conflicts. I fed small-town life when Jimmy Carter was president. Burning within me at the time was a desire to be as unlike rural people as possible— especially unlike my parents. However, even with the passing of time, the imprints of small-town culture remain clearly tattooed on my consciousness.

    Meanwhile, memories...

  4. Main Street
    (pp. 1-13)

    My freshest memories took form in the aftermath of thunderstorms and were baptized in rain-washed breezes. My imprint includes the sinking sun as it favors Turtle Mountain with a briliant spotlight, and farther east, a bank of blue-black clouds is a scrim. The musical score accompanying this production rides on the meadowlarks’ melody, a sound as refreshing to the ear as cold water is to the throat, a sound as resonant as that resulting from the delicate fingernail-thump of fine crystal.

    And so it was on many Saturday evenings, as Dad, Mom, and I eased along the two-and-a-half-mile stretch of...

  5. The Barn
    (pp. 14-27)

    The sound came from somewhere out of the east. A rhythmic chanting. “Dad, Dad, listen. Indians.” I smelled hay and manure. In the background I heard the muffled contentment of horses chomping oats. The setting sun had gilded granaries, fields, shelter-belts everything. No wind, a temperature still comforting enough to ensure no threat of snow, no foreboding only the gauzy stillness of an autumn sunset.

    Dad had just finished chores. I was standing outside our barn when I heard the singing. Since I was only four or five at the time, my conclusion relied on limited experience, much of which...

  6. Big Boy Flies Solo Early; Touches Down Eventually (He Hopes)
    (pp. 28-43)

    I learned how to drive a car before I could ride a bicycle. My solo occurred when I was five or six in our salmon and white 1956 Oldsmobile. I cetrtainly was large enough for this adventure. As proof, I offer one of Mom’s sporadic entries in a journal designed to chronicle my childhood achievements: at age seven I stood fifty-two inches tall and weighed 126½ pounds. A big boy.

    On the day I first drove that Olds, I imagine Dad asked, “Does Daddy’s little man want to help?” Dad posed this question often.

    “Yes.” I wanted to help, to...

  7. Haunted
    (pp. 44-54)

    North Dakota’s tuberculosis sanatorium seemed just as creepy to me when I was in high school, and even later, as it did when I was four Grandpa Hulse, my uncle Cliff, his son Craig, and another uncle, Neil, all received treatment for TB at San Haven, “the San,” a fortress in the war against what at one time was a deadly physical disease. However, this well-intentioned institution— this city on a hill— provided little defense against emotional traumas manifesting weaknesses.

    When Dad’s mom died of TB in 1920, the disesae went by a different name: consumption, to describe how its...

  8. An Agrarian Gift
    (pp. 55-60)

    In the late 1960s, our oat crop got hit by rust, a fungal disease that can devastate cereal grain. We were lucky. We had some oats left to harvest. When I swathed those oats, my arms, my clothes, and our swather itself were coated with a reddish brown powder at day’s end. Blowing my nose yielded auburn mud.

    Disease was only one among a plague of discouragements for Dad on our farm: thirty-minute downpours that made lakes of fields, drowning plants and hoopes; drought and relentless, mocking wind that turned our coarse soil into dust and black beaches where nothing...

  9. Avon Calling
    (pp. 61-72)

    Of all the times Eleanore Ledoux came calling on Mom as the Avon lady, my memory homes in on a harsh moment during the summer of 1968 when I was thirteen. I had been cultivating about a mile from home when the alternator on our 5010 John Deere tractor went kaput. I drove home to call Dad, who was in town, because I didn’t yet have a learner’s permit and driving into town would have risked my getting a ticket.

    When I pulled into our yard, I recognized the burgundy and white Ford Galaxie 500 parked in our driveway. The...

  10. It Takes an Appetite
    (pp. 73-80)

    Because my wife and I chose not to have children, I have no experience in determining whether really takes a village to raise a child. My childhood memories, however, remind me that rituals involving handmade food are acts of communion.

    On the stovetop, Mom’s gray fudge pan, its black handle worn to the blond wood in many places. From where I stand, I see only steam rising, like a pavement mirage on a scorching summer day. I know from the aroma that its contents are an evolving concoction of sugar, cream, and unsweetened chocolate squares that must melt and bubble...

  11. A Witness on the Home Front
    (pp. 81-92)

    Our picnic lunch included crusty health-baked bread, a tortellini salad, and for dessert, flaky, date-filled rugalach— all from a neighbourhood delicatessen. Nicki and I thought we should splurge on the outdoor eats because we were saving money by staying with a friend, and because I was only weeks into my forties. Another birthday party. We ate our meal on the Capitol lawn as we listened (along with thousands upon thousands of others) to the National Symphony Orchestra. We visited museums and art galleries, too, during our stay in Washington, D.C. At the Phillips, Renoir’sThe Luncheon of the Boating Party...

  12. A Genetic Propensity for Populism
    (pp. 93-104)

    In 1962 a brand-new Ford Galaxie 500, a burnt peanut and cream two-tone, became part of the scenery on the street running along the north side of the barbershop in Westhope. The car’s owner, a bar manager at a joint a few doors south from the barbershop, parked it there with a frequency that implied a reserved space. When rainstorms halted farm chores, Dad and I loafed at the barbershop. I inhaled, and savored, Barbasol-and Brylcreem-type aromas from my post in one of the salmon-colored hard plastic chairs. I listened to adult conversations seeming to follow theclip-cliprhythm of...

  13. Rocks Taking Root
    (pp. 105-119)

    When I yanked rocks from our farm fields as a teenager in the early 1970s, my thoughts consisted mostly of complaints about the work’s drudgery and fears of unearthing a shade-seeking snake. At no time do I recall considering why any rock lay as it did, let alone whether hands were involved in its placement.

    In 2004 I was being compelled by connectedness the day I set out to rediscover the homestead remnants of my maternal great-great-grandparents. The Ryders, Alfred and Annie, had emigrated from England to Canada and then to Richburg Township in North Dakota’s Bottineau County. Their homestead...

  14. The Past Is Close Behind
    (pp. 120-146)

    Before dinner sometimes Grandpa Sam Hulse and I went on drives in our cow pasture. Our course took us by five cottonwood trees next to a barbed wire fence that separated the pasture from Dad’s alfalfa field. On occasion, Grandpa Sam parked his car in the midday shade, and we watched the cattle amble. If we stayed too long, Spike, our border collie, checked on us. Then the three of us headed to the house for dinner, with Spike leading the way. Our trips through the pasture produced a prairie trail perfectly matched to the width of the car’s wheels....

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 147-148)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-149)