Re: Papa Was A Farmer

In Shambling Towards Hiroshima a friend of the hero’s girlfriend was the screenwriter, Brenda Weisberg. In this world, she wrote for 15 years for such stellar studios as RKO, before she rejoined her family in Phoenix and married a jeweler, Morris Meckler. She continued to write and was active in the Phoenix Little Theater. But the only book she wrote was her memoir, Papa Was A Farmer, by Brenda Weisberg Meckler.

Goldie Weisberg was four when her parents, Mendel and Brucha, escaped from Russia to America in 1904. They stayed for a time in Boston, where they became Max and Becky.  After they moved to Cinncinatti, Uncle Mike talked them into buying a farm. Becky was set to work finishing pants while the men shopped for land. They bought a small farm, with a house and barn and animals, in Dunham’s Hill, Ohio.

It helped a lot that Becky had some experience growing and putting up food and milking cows. The chapters describing how they settle in and get to know the neighbors shows how everyone helps each other. Becky learns of feral plots of gooseberries, currants, and fragrant roses and soon has jars of jams to bring. One of the neighbors offers to teach her how to can tomatoes. But it’s not all smooth going; in a community where everyone just assumes everyone else is a Christian, the Weisberg’s Jewishness leads to awkward questions and uneasy accomodations, complicated by Max’s atheism.

Goldie’s memories of growing up on the farm are keenly observed. I love how she learns the calls of chickens.  Even the horses are vivid characters. Some of the stories are wrenching, but more are wonderful. Max organizes enough subscribers to get a telephone line put in, and Becky plays Yossele Rosenblatt records on the party line for all the neighbors to hear. Max devours any news about farming techniques, and learns even more from Baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Agricultural Society. Becky sells corn husks to a “hatamalchik”, a man who had discovered tamales in California and sells his own tamales in the city.

Goldie has to live with difficult choices as she grows up, and becomes a teacher and a writer. The book passes quickly over her family moving to Phoenix. She barely alludes to changing her name to Brenda (for her rebellious aunt Brendele, who went back to Russia for the Revolution). But her parents remained growers of food, Max specializing in sweet corn, and Becky in the best tomatoes in town.