In August 1969, John and I were married, and in September he was to start his job as ninth grade English teacher in Winona. That summer, as we both recently graduated from college, he was living at home, and I was sharing an apartment with two friends somewhere in Winona.
We needed a home of our own to come back to after the wedding. John, even though he was thoroughly a city boy, was a hunter. He had, over the years, developed a romantic attachment to country living, and demanded we look for a farm house to rent. I was even more of a city person than he, and had never seen a cow in person before I came to Winona.
So off into the country we went in search of the perfect farm house to rent. We found it south of Lewiston—a red brick house with a nice front yard, the requisite barn out back, but not so far from the road as to impede our trip to Winona each day.
Our landlords were the Browns, Gerald (called Tony by his wife) and Donna, who lived not far from Utica on their home farm. There they raised nine children, who all still lived at home and worked on the farm. They were cheerful people with a wonderful sense of humor. Their children were good-looking and friendly.
We liked the whole family right away, and despite our stupid city ways, they grew to like us, too. They decided to introduce us simultaneously to our neighbors—the Bockenhauers and the Muellers—and the card game “500” at a party to be held at our house. In preparation for the party, we bought drinks, tried to learn how to make coffee and “lunch,” and I picked some beautiful flowering grasses from the ditch near the cemetery. The Browns and neighbors all laughed to see proudly displayed in my vase the same thing they spent time and money to kill when they saw it in their fields. Lesson learned.
Gerald was patient with us, until we let the fuel oil tank run dry in the middle of winter. Neither of us knew that fuel didn’t always come from some magical place piped into your basement. But even then, he was kind. We were an annoying presence, but we gave Gerald and Donna something to laugh about at card games.
One horrible day, though, we learned that Gerald and Donna’s son and daughter were both in a terrible car accident on Hwy. 14 on the way to school in St. Charles. Mary had been killed instantly. Leo was in the hospital in Rochester, badly hurt.
It was harvest time, and in a split second, Gerald and Donna’s farm was without four of its family harvest workers, and they were handling both grief and worry. Their other kids all helped, as did neighbors and hired hands, but we wondered if we could do something. John offered his assistance, and right after Gerald erased the look of skepticism from his face, he assigned John the duty of driving the truck from the fields to the elevator in Utica.
At the end of that year, we went off to Seattle, but maintained a lifelong friendship with the Browns. Gerald died last Wednesday, having suffered for many years from Lewy Body Dementia. He and Donna had moved to Lewiston from the farm, which one of their daughters and her husband took over. When we came back and moved into another farm near Silo, we would meet the Browns to play cards from time to time, and even visited back and forth after we moved into Winona.
There is something lastingly endearing about the first adults you meet as newlyweds who help you enter the world of reality. Gerald and Donna had that place in our hearts. The lessons they taught us about family, hard work, fun, the economics of rural living, respect and love and kindness made a solid foundation for our future.
It is with much sadness that we say goodbye to Gerald Brown. Thank you for the gentleness and wisdom you showed us when we were very young.