'Farm Country' for Real
By Tom Larson
Gordon Fredrickson is a writer, farmer and teacher who knew he wanted to tell stories about his life that could entertain, inform and endure as a historical perspective. He knew there had to be a way to marry his vocations, but it wasn't an easy task.
The former Chokio-Alberta High School teacher worked at his craft by writing a novel and a play, but he found they didn't really tell the kinds of stories he wanted to tell.
In 2000, he found his literary voice, recounting what his life was like growing up on a farm in the 1950s. The style he adopted also satisfied the teacher in him, allowing him to read and perform the stories - in costume and with props - for school audiences and at farm shows.
Now, with the Oct. 2008 publication of a rewritten and re-illustrated "A Farm Country Christmas Eve" by Beaver's Pond Press, Fredrickson is hoping to reach an even wider audience.
"After my folks died, I decided I wanted to write about what those times were really like," Fredrickson said, "and I was trying to figure out what format to use."
He found it in stories that speak to both children and adults, and, as Fredrickson says, recount honest and entertaining events from his childhood and those of his friends, neighbors and acquaintances.
So was born "A Farm Country Christmas Eve," written in a rhyming verse that might remind readers of "A Night Before Christmas."
"It's for adults as well as children," he said. "They are adult stories told through the eyes of children."
Fredrickson was born in New Prague, Minn. He grew up and, at a young age, began working on his family's 120-acre dairy farm. As an adult, he served three years in the Army and earned degrees from the University of Minnesota. He taught English for 16 years.
From 1973 to 1978, Fredrickson taught English at Chokio-Alberta, while at the same time he and his wife Nancy owned and farmed 160 acres near Donnelly, raising grain, hogs and cattle.
The Fredricksons sold their farm to Don and Bonnie Gieselman and moved from the area in 1978, but their connection to the area remained.
When Fredrickson began writing the first of his 10 "Farm Country" books, he enlisted the talents of Delmar Holdgrafer, a Donnelly farmer and cartoon artist who contributed work to area newspapers, to illustrate the first three books.
For eight years, Nancy Fredrickson printed and bound the books in the family's home, and they sold copies at their performances. In 2007, Gordon Fredrickson reworked "A Farm Country Christmas Eve," had it re-illustrated in watercolors by artist Michaelin Otis and published it through Beaver's Pond Press.
The book, like Fredrickson's other stories, tells a simple tale in rhythmic detail that accurately portrays '50s farm life. His characters, the Carlson family, are comprised of the parents and children, Jimmy, Maggie and Joey.
The family is awaiting a visit by Santa Claus, and Jimmy, who is coming to be doubtful of the bearded one's existence, plays along for the benefit of his siblings. The family embarks on milking chores as a way for the parents to get gifts in place under the Christmas tree, but Jimmy discovers much more about the love he has of his family throughout the evening.
"At the end, he understands - the kid knows," Fredrickson said. "But he seems to know not to say anything. He understands that it's about the sacrifice and love and dedication of his parents."
Even before Beaver's Pond released Fredrickson's first book, the stories touched both those who live in rural areas and those who don't. When an account of his work appeared in an agriculture magazine, he said he received calls from grandparents who called to order the book and also relate their stories.
"I'd be on the phone with them for 15-20 minutes," he said with a laugh.
Fredrickson appeared at a book signing at a Barnes and Noble store, and said even his publisher was surprised at the reaction of people who came.
"The farm connection is not that far away for most people," Fredrickson said. "You can't underestimate that."
Fredrickson has the 10 completed books in line for re-publication and five more books in the conceptual stage, each touching on special days, such as the 4th of July, or typical events, such as the harvest.
Fredrickson also has three stories ready in a "If I Were a Farmer" series, which are not written in a rhythmic style and contain language specifically for children of preschool to 2nd grade age.
For the farmer, teacher and writer, the motivation remains the same.
"I hope that, 100 years from now, the books will be something that people will read and re-read and know what it was like," Fredrickson said. "That this is a way to pass these things on."