I want to tell you a story today about a really remarkable woman, a true North Dakotan, a real character, and my favorite relative: my Aunt Deloris.
Deloris Boehmer is my last living aunt. She’s the only remaining member of my parents’ generation in our family. She’s 88, and lives in Edmore, North Dakota, about 40 miles northeast of Devils Lake. She’s got a pretty nice house in Edmore—used to be the Lutheran parsonage. She and my uncle Leonard—my mother’s brother—bought it about 40 years ago and moved off the farm into town.
But they didn’t quit farming. The farm’s just a few miles out of town and they kept the machinery there, and drove out there to work. They drove together, until my Uncle Leonard died about seven years ago. She buried him, and kept on driving to the farm to work. She’s still doing it. At 88.
Aunt Deloris is a little spitfire, about 5 feet tall if she stretches up on her tiptoes, a bundle of energy who weighs less than 100 pounds. Aside from a chronically bad back, she keeps pretty fit, and her work uniform in the summer is cutoff jean shorts, tee shirts and tennis shoes. In the winter she substitutes blue jeans for the shorts and puts on a sweater.
She farms with her son, my cousin, Jimmy. Together, she and Jimmy farm 13 quarters. They raise wheat, soybeans and canola. When I talked to her Tuesday afternoon, the third of October, she had just gotten off her combine, getting pretty near the end of the canola harvest. She was taking a break because a hunter from Minnesota had made his annual pilgrimage to their farm to hunt ducks, and he offered to drive the combine for the afternoon. Usually, by the time he arrives, the combines have been put away and the grain is in the bin. Not this year. And so the city boy is getting a special treat this year, driving a big old combine. And Deloris was getting an afternoon off.
“I’ve never seen two years like the last two,” she told me. “So much rain. We can’t get anything done.”
The wheat finally got combined, in mid-September, “but it isn’t worth anything,” she said, mourning this year’s low grain prices. She’s hoping the canola, a relatively new crop for her, puts some money in the bank this year. And she and Jimmy still have soybeans to combine.
“I can’t remember combining in October before,” she told me. “I remember one year we finished on September 21st—I remember that because it was my mother’s birthday—and I thought that was late.”
But by the end of last week she’d finished cultivating the wheat stubble—four quarters of it—and was ready to start on the canola fields, probably later this week. Before she’s done this fall, she’ll have cultivated ten quarters, “black and pretty.”
Aunt Deloris farmed with her husband Leonard all of their 59 married years. She grew up on her parents’ farm, not far down the road from my Grandma Sophie and Grandpa Pete Boehmer’s place, which became hers and Uncle Leonard’s farm after Grandma and Grandpa died. She grew up driving machinery and milking cows. She married Leonard after he came home from World War II, and she was an active partner in the farm.
During some lean times on the farm, she took a job as a security guard at the ABM “pyramid” down the road in Nekoma, and she later worked as an aide at the Edmore nursing home, just down the street from her house. But through all that, she still found time to be active on the farm.
Uncle Leonard had a long battle with cancer, spending his last months in a nursing home in Grand Forks in 2010 while she ran the farm. When he knew he was dying, he said he wasn’t worried about the farm—“She has always been a better farmer than I am,” he said with a smile. When he was in Grand Forks, she put up a new steel building on the farm for their machinery, and didn’t tell him. “I didn’t need him worrying about things like that,” she said.
Uncle Leonard was a John Deere man, believing that if it wasn’t green, he didn’t want it. Deloris wasn’t so sure. After Uncle Leonard died, she decided she’d had enough of that green stuff. “I drove that old John Deere for too many years,” she told me this fall. So she bought herself a great big red Versatile tractor, and decided a new combine was in order too, so she bought a big gray Gleaner. Neighbors said Uncle Leonard was rolling over in his grave. She paid for them in just a couple years, when crop prices were good, and still drives them. Jimmy runs the green stuff.
With a new swather and a new sprayer, she’s got about all the equipment she needs. Oh, and there’s the new semi too. She drives that in the fields, but doesn’t take it on the road, leaving it to Jimmy to haul the grain to the elevator.
Uncle Leonard had a pretty nice pickup, but it wasn’t quite what Deloris wanted, so she bought herself a new Dodge Ram four-wheel drive a couple years ago to get back and forth to the farm, and to drive to Devils Lake for groceries. It takes her a little work to climb up into it, but when she’s sitting behind the wheel with a smile on her face, she’s the Queen of the Road.
My cousin Jimmy, a REALLY good farmer, a strong man with an easy smile who handles the heavy work of the farm and who has land of his own and his own machinery (the green stuff), is happy with the arrangement he and his mom have worked out. They’re steadfast partners, day in and day out, making decisions together about what and when to plant, when to fertilize, when to sell, and the dozens of daily choices that need to be made on a successful farm.
He’s been farming nearly 40 years, first with his mom and dad, and now just with his mom, and runs a snowmobile repair business in the winter. That, and chasing after grandkids all over northeast North Dakota, keeps him plenty busy. He also looks in on his mom most days—she is 88 after all, and lives alone—and reports in to his sisters, who have moved away and have families of their own.
Tuesday he was fretting a bit about the canola—it was just a bit too wet. There was a big wind blowing, and the elevator man said “Just wait a couple hours before you combine it and it will dry out.” Jimmy replied “In a couple hours it will be dark.” So he and the duck hunter got on the combines and took it just a bit too wet, but Jimmy thought that would be okay.
Aunt Deloris found some odd jobs to do around the farm. She wasn’t going to quit and go to town before the men did.
In fact, she says she has no plans to quit farming any time soon.
“My neighbors all say I should quit. Heck, what would I do?”