Bill Moyers takes a closer look at how small family-farms are disappearing all across the United States. Moyers talks with two families trying to keep the dream alive.
WATCH A CLIP
(George Fisher operating combine in wheat field.)
GEORGE FISHER: On the west side there, there’s that slew that runs right up along the pasture there …
HANSINE FISHER:Oh, yeah.
GEORGE FISHER: Big round part? Right in there, and start… And then all of the branches that …
HANSINE FISHER: Blew down.
GEORGE FISHER: Blew down in there, you’ve got to watch them. Just go right over them.
(Hansine operating combine.)
GEORGE FISHER: (in truck) This is a real special day; it’s like the first genuine crop that I’m hauling for sale at the elevator and it’s really the culmination of, like, a year and a half’s work. I mean, it’s no big deal to a lot of the other farmers around here, but for me it’s like — finally we’re having a payday, and … damnit, we did it!
RADIO NEWSCASTER: This is Farm Market News, Broadcast 106 for Tuesday, and I’m Don Busquayne. Wheat closed to both sides as losses in soybeans encouraged selling. At the close of the Chicago Board of Trade, December wheat dropped two cents to three fifty and three quarters; barley closed unchanged to ten cents lower; oats ended steady to fifty cents weaker, and feed wheat finished from forty cents to a dollar fifty higher. In export news today, Japan bought 4,000 tons of rice seed, while 2,000 tons of flax went to an undisclosed destination in Europe. We’ll be back with the closing prices on the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange after this message.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Hi! This is Donna Ogden. I want you to keep listening to Country 91, KCJV, for the very best in country.
BILL MOYERS: (over shots of Kenmare and farms): Kenmare, North Dakota — fifteen miles from the Canadian border, near the geographic center of the North American continent. It is one of the many small towns that dot the North Dakota prairie, almost hidden among the great fields of wheat, barley and oats. Farmland is expensive here — some of it a thousand dollars an acre. The giant machinery costs a lot, too. Been selling out, the big farms getting bigger. for new farmers to get started. thousand dollars Small farmers have And it’s not easy
(On camera): America used to be a nation of small farmers-family farms. No longer. There are fewer than one million family farms left in the country. This is the story of two people who are trying to make one of those farms work. They were not even farmers to begin with; they came to North Dakota from metropolitan New York. What they’ve found here is no romanticized life in the little house on the prairie.
(Over shots of George and Hansine on farm): What they’ve found is the reality of long hours and large risks. Life on the farm is hard. Hansine Fisher inherited this place, a small farm of 480 acres, less than half the size of the average North Dakota farm. Without the inheritance there was no way they could have started up; it takes too much capital, and a grain farmer out here can’t make it on a farm this small. So the Fishers supplement their income by raising horses, cattle and pigs. It is quite a change for two people trained to be social workers. Last spring they planted wheat, oats and barley. Now it is fall — time for their first harvest. They came looking for a simpler way of life, a place to raise a family. Hansine is pregnant with their second child, and they’re planning a home birth. Both have been divorced; they wanted a new start, away from urban pressures. But for two people who had never farmed before, country life brought its own frustrations.
(George and Hansine rounding up cows into trailer.)
HANSINE FISHER: Very nice, ladies, very nice.
GEORGE FISHER: Come on, .. come on, ladies. Everybody in!
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, shit! Careful, George, don’t push them too much .
GEORGE FISHER: Come on … come on. I was afraid of that.
HANSINE FISHER: That’s it, that’s it no, go on.
GEORGE FISHER: Come on — come on. Ah, come on, you guys.
HANSINE FISHER: Probably should have taken the cows by themselves.
GEORGE FISHER: I don’t know if that would have worked. We’d have some very upset calves.
HANSINE FISHER: That’s right, that’s right … that’s right.
GEORGE FISHER: Come on … come on. Come on.
HANSINE FISHER: Good girl! Good girl — no … oh, shit!
GEORGE FISHER: Come on!
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, George, she’s not going to go.
GEORGE FISHER: Here, hold them.
HANSINE FISHER: Good girl. Come on. Go on! Go on! That’s it. That’s
GEORGE FISHER: Well, let’s get one home, anyway.
HANSINE FISHER: You’re going to take one home?
GEORGE FISHER: Well, so much for that . (In field.)
BILL MOYERS: What did he have to learn when he got here, Argil?
KENMARE MAN: Boy! We was really worried about him, ’cause you know, he was just like a — you might say a baby. He had to learn everything, you know, a complete change of life. He didn’t know the first thing about it. Although he has done awfully well, better than average, I would say; much better. (In street.)
BILL MOYERS: How about Hansine?
KENMARE WOMAN: Oh, we liked her; I borrowed her all my baby equipment, ’cause she had Spencer at that time, and … oh, we chum. She gives piano lessons to our youngest daughter, and the kids all seem to take to her. I don’t know how she gets crammed into her day as much as she does.
YOUNG WOMAN: My father-in-law met George and Hansine as they came off the plane; their uncle introduced him to them and they were fresh from New York City, and I think it was in the middle of the winter because there was snow on the ground; and if I remember right, George had a very long beard and his hair was very long, and — well, of course, we’re very conservative in the Midwest, so it was a very, very strange reaction on his part, because he thought, “How in the world will they ever come to North Dakota and farm from New York City?” (Women’s Jaycees meeting.)
CHAIRMAN: This meeting has come to order on September 21st of ’78. Pam, will you say the Pledge of Allegiance?
ALL: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
CHAIRMAN: This month it’s stand and tell something special you did this summer.
FIRST WOMAN: My summer consisted of doing a lot of canning, learning how to take care of baby, and here I thought I’d have all this free time and just, you know, do all these crafty things, and I end up changing diapers and burping and — (laughs) nursing a lot of the times, and I was just really surprised how much time a baby does take up. And I made my first jelly for this year, and I was very proud of it. And after three years my white bread is finally turning out good! (Laughing.)
HANSINE FISHER: This summer was sort of a unique one for us, because it’s the first summer that we really had our own farming and our own crop to put in; so that took a lot of time. I also had — I mean, one of the most interesting things that I did this summer, I think, was we were baling hay and we had this baler that broke down, and I was winding up driving the tractor and holding Spencer ~ho is two, while George rode the back of the baler and tied many, many bales by hand until we got the baler fixed. And with the baby coming in, we’ve been getting ready to have the baby at home, that was a decision we made. So it’s been a full summer. It will be a full fall, too.
SECOND WOMAN: I guess I have difficulty this summer finding something good. Um… I’m sure all of you know that we had a baby boy on August 16th, and … (beginning to cry) he’s no longer with us. But please share your babies with me. (Crying.)
THIRD WOMAN: I think the highlight of my summer was finally getting Weight Watchers going in Kenmare (laughs). We’ve been working on it since Christmas. Last year was the first we started on it; we had our first meeting August 23rd. We have over fifty members, the first week they lost 155 and three-quarters pounds … (Laughter from group.)
THIRD WOMAN: So it’s really going good, and I’m enjoying it. I didn’t think I would. I was scared, and I’m still scared, but it’s fun.
HANSINE FISHER: We were both successful social workers in New York but were involved in big systems, big governmental systems that were not as flexible as we wanted them to be. And I remember being about five, six months pregnant with Spencer, and George and I really came to the conclusion that we wanted to leave New York because we felt, even though we lived in the suburbs, that it was really not the kind of place that we wanted to raise children.
GEORGE FISHER: We could have stayed in New York, we hid careers in New York. We could have stayed there and bought a house in East Meadow and taken our Civil Service exam somewhere along the line and in fifteen, twenty years be making, on today’s pay scale, you know, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars apiece. But you know, a thousand dollars of that would be going to an analyst a month, and …
BILL MOYERS: (Laughing.)
GEORGE FISHER: Well, I mean, we were both in therapy. We had to.
HANSINE FISHER: So we decided to do it. And we realized after we made the decision, as we talked to people that we knew, that we were taking a risk and that we were really taking our lives into our own hands in a way that I guess maybe not too many people have the opportunity.
BILL MOYERS: But in the ’60s weren’t you quite involved, quite engaged …
GEORGE FISHER: Oh, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: … quite a concerned citizen, as they say?
GEORGE FISHER: The last of the Woodstock generation. Marches and draft centers. We kind of went the route of almost everybody that was in the ’60s movement, of doing first a public service thing through the system, you know, and then finding out that that wasn’t where it was, either. When I see myself actualized by the raising of a crop or the building of a building, or seeing the increase in a herd of horses or a herd of cattle, New York and my life in New York just doesn’t take on any meaning anymore.
(in duck blind)
FIRST HUNTER: Come on, get down. Get down.
SECOND HUNTER: Tell me when, Dad. I can’t see them.
FIRST HUNTER: Okay!
(Hunters shoot at geese.)
SECOND HUNTER: Oh, that was bad, them suckers turned. If they’d just come another fifty yards ….
FIRST HUNTER: Well, I think both of them enjoy what they’re doing; I think they love the farm. Yesterday when we was combining she was out driving George’s machine, and she plugged it up. So when I come around with my machine I stopped and, oh, just jokingly with her I said, “Don’t you wish you was back in New York?” Dust, and the wind, you know, howling, and she was blinking her eyeballs …
BILL MOYERS: (Laughing.)
FIRST HUNTER: “No,” she said, “this is fun.” (Laughter from others in blind.)
SECOND HUNTER: Fun!
FIRST HUNTER: Yeah.
SECOND HUNTER: Look out, you guys, we got a whole wad of them coming right from the south here.
THIRD HUNTER: Here they come again, out of the sun.
FIRST HUNTER: Look over towards the southeast, you see the snowbirds coming over down there? that
THIRD HUNTER: Oh, yeah.
SECOND HUNTER: Oh, there is just a wad of them!
THIRD HUNTER: Look at ’em!
FIRST HUNTER: Couple of thousand?
SECOND HUNTER: Yep. Couple of thousand. Go ahead, Dad, take (First hunter shoots.)
SECOND HUNTER: That a boy, you got him! Down he went.
BILL MOYERS: Nice shot, O’Neill.
GEORGE (in field): You know, Long Island it isn’t. I’ll always be an outsider here, but at the same time I feel like I’m home, you know? It’s a coming home experience to be here.
BILL MOYERS: (over church service): The people who settled North Dakota were pioneers from the old country, mainly from Germany and Scandinavia. They were sturdy, tenacious, God-fearing people who suffered the hardships of pioneer living to claim a place of their own in a new world. Chris Christensen was born in Denmark. His father was a dockworker who brought his family to America at the turn of the century. He is Hansine’s uncle, her mother’s brother. (Over shots of cemetery): Hansine and Chris are the only two left, the sole descendants of the original pioneer family, and the farm has passed on to both of them. When did you quit farming, Chris?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: 1973 was the last year.
BILL MOYERS: Was it hard to stop?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Well … it was hard to stop, yes. And it still hurts at times.
BILL MOYERS: Must feel good, though, when you see George and Hansine carrying it on. It’s in the family.
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: It’s in the family, yeah. Harold and Ann and I, after the folks were gone, we decided if possible that’s the way it’s going to stay, and that’s what it is.
HANSINE FISHER: Yep; yep. But you never thought it would end up this way, did you?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: No, no. (Laughing.)
BILL MOYERS: (over shot of tractor plowing field): Chris worked this place for fifty years. When age forced him to quit and George and Hansine decided to leave New York and run the farm, he helped them buy the machinery and shared his knowledge and lifelong experience.
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: I told them, I says, you can get drought and you can get rust and you can get hail, and — it’s a gamble, farming; it’s about as big a gamble as anything, I think.
BILL MOYERS: If you had it to do over again, Chris, would you be a farmer?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: I think so. I honestly do.
BILL MOYERS: Good life.
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Good life. Clean life. If you want to make it a clean life.
BILL MOYERS: Do you remember what you thought when you heard that George was coming out?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Well, I’ll tell you, to be honest, I just couldn’t understand that two people from New York City, where both of them had a good job and never had farmed, I just couldn’t get through my head that they had come out here and settled down in the North Dakota prairie and start farming; it would be such a change of life, you know.
BILL MOYERS: Do they still appear to you to be city folks, or have they become part of the farm?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Well, they did to begin with; now they’re farmers. (Laughing.)
BILL MOYERS: What kind of mistakes did he make in the beginning?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: I think this fall, when he was combining, when it was real nice combining, I think he should have made a little more use of the time. And I told him that and I told him that, and I says, whenever that time comes and it’s ready to go and the weather permits, don’t lose any minutes on the combine; keep it going.
BILL MOYERS: Harvest doesn’t wait.
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Harvest doesn’t wait, and the weather don’t wait. (George and Hansine fixing combing in field.)
GEORGE FISHER: Let’s see, now. This has got to turn that way, so that’s got to turn that way. Okay, go up, and ver-r-r-y carefully and very little put on the — start it up so maybe I can get this thing to snap on. No — cut her back. (Farmhouse, evening.)
HANSINE FISHER: If we’re talking about three weeks until the baby, that’s not very long, George .
GEORGE FISHER: I’m not going to put you on the combine all day. I just really don’t want you to do that. I don’t think it’s dumb, I’ve been fair; you’re going to want to do all these things that you say you can do even though you’re pregnant, but you know, if you are talking about three weeks, then that really … that’s really getting close. And you’ve really got to start watching it. I don’t think that’s so outrageous.
HANSINE FISHER: I know, but I feel like I’m being, you know — what? — grounded.
GEORGE FISHER: Maybe you are. I think it’s legitimate for me to say that. You know, being on a machine for five or six hours that’s vibrating, going over bumps and all that kind of stuff, I just really don’t see how that can be any good for you.
HANSINE FISHER: I don’t know that that’s any harder than doing a lot of bending and lifting.
GEORGE FISHER: What are you planning on bending and lifting?
HANSINE FISHER: I don’t know. Spencer.
GEORGE FISHER: Come on, you know you’re not being grounded. But you know how it is when you get off the combine; your legs are all wobbly and …
HANSINE FISHER: Do yours feel that way?
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah.
HANSINE FISHER: Oh. I thought maybe it was just because I was pregnant.
GEORGE FISHER: No, no. That’s a very tiring thing. (In examining room.)
DOCTOR: You hear that placenta there …. There it is. 140.
HANSINE FISHER: What is it today, a girl or a boy?
DOCTOR: It’s a girl today.
HANSINE FISHER: (Laughing.) That’s twice in a row it’s a girl. (In doctor’s office.)
BILL MOYERS: Is it uncommon for women to have their babies at home here?
DOCTOR: It’s uncommon here, yes, in North Dakota. At the present time.
BILL MOYERS: If you had your way, would she have the baby in the hospital?
DOCTOR: Well, I think that I would recommend the hospital, yes, because of so much help around in the case of anything that goes wrong. But the chance is so remote, we hope, of anything going wrong that you’re taking the chance. Now, of course I understand her and her husband’s reason for wanting to have the child at home. In New York, of course, it’s so impersonal, but here in our hospital, where we only have four or five patients anyway, it would be very personal here. Hansine is a strong-willed woman, and she’s more or less determined, and written her own ticket. I guess I have to go along with it. (At farmhouse.)
HANSINE FISHER: I think about moving here, and I was thinking that I couldn’t have made the kind of move that we did, five years ago, because I was just too crazy. I mean, I was still trying to find out who I was and I was every day saying, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” And I was twenty-eight years old. And I was in the middle of a really bad marriage, and I hadn’t yet found a way to resolve that. I was working hard and doing good work but, I think, was on the edge of really being a workaholic and using my work and my involvement …
GEORGE FISHER: You’re not now …
HANSINE FISHER: No, I’m not now. (Laughs.)
GEORGE FISHER: You’re not a workaholic. Okay.
HANSINE FISHER: We both aren’t. (Laughing.) Now it’s functional instead of … something else. But there’s been such a radical transformation of my life in the past three or four years. I mean, I finally feel like I’ve sort of arrived as an adult, you know, and that — like we had said earlier, you know, that living here and making the decision to move to this farm has really been an adventure, you know; and it sounds kind of silly to say, but it’s like … like the first real adventure of my grown-up life.
(Fishers and neighbors killing and cleaning chickens and clowning.)
HANSINE FISHER: That’s two .
FIRST NEIGHBOR: Mmm — fried cat!
SECOND NEIGHBOR: How can you do it when they’re pleading with you? (Laughter, chattering.)
SECOND NEIGHBOR: You need a mask!
FIRST NEIGHBOR: These cats!
THIRD NEIGHBOR: Here you go, fellas! Oh, yuck!
SECOND NEIGHBOR: Gross! (Laughter.)
FIRST NEIGHBOR: See, Hansine? (Laughing.)
HANSINE FISHER: Scare the little kids, right?
THIRD NEIGHBOR: (Laughing.) Oh, don’t — Halloween.
FIRST NEIGHBOR: No, I just want to show you the leg. (Laughing.)
SECOND NEIGHBOR: Don’t throw it! (Screams, laughing.)
BILL MOYERS: I’ve finally found my role in life. (Carrying a cat.)
HANSINE FISHER: (Laughing.)
BILL MOYERS: Just put it in the barn, Hansine?
HANSINE FISHER: Yeah, back in the feed room.
BILL MOYERS: (In Kaffeeklatsch) Since we know each other a little bit now, let me ask this question: what does it take to be the wife of a farmer or someone whose life is dependent on farming, as yours is?
FIRST WOMAN: Each farmer’s individual, so what he’d want in a wife would be different than what the next-door neighbor farmer maybe would like. You know, like I say, my husband wants a hot meal to the field, and there’s wives that don’t have to do that; they can send a cold sandwich in the morning and get away with it — which I could never do, so …
BILL MOYERS: Gloria Steinem would say you’re not liberated.
FIRST WOMAN: No, I am not liberated. (Laughing.) There’s no way!
BILL MOYERS: During the harvest season is there a special anxiety? (Groans and laughter from group.)
SECOND WOMAN: Tension is the word.
FIRST WOMAN: Yeah .
BILL MOYERS: How does it express itself?
THIRD WOMAN: Grouchy husbands. (Laughter.)
FIRST WOMAN: It’s very hard for a farmer’s wife, because nerves are very, you know — men are on edge.
SECOND WOMAN: You don’t ask to have the sink fixed or anything.
THIRD WOMAN: The toilet’s flooding over, that’s your problem. Nobody else’s. (Laughing.)
FOURTH WOMAN: Of course, you don’t buy anything, either.
SECOND WOMAN: No. If you do, you don’t tell him about it. (Laughs.)
THIRD WOMAN: Most of our friends have farms or are affected by farms, so …
FOURTH WOMAN: It affects the church, too. People don’t come as often. (Laughter.)
FOURTH WOMAN: There are fewer of the men in church on Sundays, because you know, whether they can get out in the field or not, they are just too antsy to sit for that long a period of time.
FIRST WOMAN: You know, like two years ago we got totally hailed out, so we got nothing that year. Just totally lost it; in fifteen minutes it looked like we’d done nothing, I mean, like we’d never put it in. It was just flattened to the ground. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Like, I was in town, and the hail was hitting the windows, and I just knew; I had a feeling in my heart that — that we’d lost everything, and then when John came in, he looked … like he’d been dead. I mean, you know, it’s just the shock, it really is.
BILL MOYERS: (In doctor’s office) I’m interested in the life of a community like this and whether or not people who live on farms in rural areas, basically isolated from the great mass of American population, have problems that are peculiar to their geography. You’ve seen a lot of people in twenty-seven years of practicing out in this part of the country.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the answer to that question?
DOCTOR: Well, I think most of the farmers in North Dakota now have to be big-time farmers. The small farm is not practical. And if you’re a big-time farmer you’re also a businessman, and you have to take a lot of chances and gamble, you have to study. What we see out here when it’s very tense – that is, when they’re waiting to get the crop in or when they’re waiting to harvest it — is the appearance of ulcers, or perhaps afterwards .
BILL MOYERS: So there’s a lot of mental stress.
BILL MOYERS: A lot of nervous anxiety. Problems you’d normally associate with high-speed urban living.
DOCTOR: (Laughing.) I think it’s a lot easier to live in the urban areas than it is1 to live on a farm. (Shots of stormy weather over grain fields.)
TELEVISION NEWSCASTER: Highs today in North Dakota, 55 to 65, South Dakota, the 50s and 60s, eastern Montana, mostly in the 40s today. Lows tonight in North Dakota in the 40s, South Dakota in the 40s and 50s, eastern Montana lows tonight in the 30s. For tomorrow …
HANSINE FISHER: (at home) It’s raining out.
TELEVISION NEWSCASTER: … the weatherman says North Dakota can expect highs of only 45 to 55 degrees; the extended forecast talks about a chance of showers, continuing Wednesday and Thursday, highs generally in the low 60s through the week and lows at night in the upper 50s.
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, my.
GEORGE FISHER: Hell of a way to start the week. I (George and Hansine leading horses out of barn.)
HANSINE FISHER: This weather is very scary. They’re predicting possible snow tomorrow, and we have about $15,000 worth of crop still on the ground, and knowing that it could be taken away just like that — I mean, George and I woke up this morning, both of us, about four thirty, and we’ve been up since then, kind of worrying about what we can do, if anything. I remember Chris said to us once that he thought farming was the biggest gamble in the world because when it’s at times like this, there’s absolutely nothing that a person can do and we’re really kind of the victims of nature right now. And he said, you know, it all hinges on the weather. And I realize that now. And about all we can do is … wait.
GEORGE FISHER: (in truck) It really looks like we have pretty serious moisture setting in for a few days. (Laughs.) Makes me feel like tearing my hair out a little bit, because I know I have some good grain there in the swath and a good yield, and I just really kind of see it all kind of slipping away, and … you know, you go and talk to some of your neighbors and they say, well, you know, what else is new? Well, this is in fact new to me. I’ve been counting on some of the — you know, all through the summer you’re king of ringing the old cash register a little bit and kind of figuring, well, this is what I hope to make and this is what it’s going to cost me and here’s my margin; and then you kind of see your margin shrinking with every raindrop that comes down, and … I think probably for the first time since we moved here I really was awakened in the middle of the night by my anxiety. I didn’t even know it was raining, but just the idea of hearing the forecast last night that the weather was really going to turn bad again…
MAN IN OFFICE: (In town, at Farmers’ Cooperative) Well, George, how’s the weather shaping up for you out there?
GEORGE FISHER: I don’t know. I know everyone has gone through this already, but you know, for the first time I’m really getting kind of nervous. You know, I waited through that last rain and we had everything standing.
MAN: Well, this seems kind of normal here, George. We get a few nice days to start with, you know, and then it’ll level off soon. We usually end up getting a crop.
GEORGE FISHER: I’m just kind of going kind of crazy with it.
MAN: You know, days like this, there’s more crop lost just thinking about it than it actually ends up. The weather’ll usually straighten out. We get a frost, and it’ll straighten out, things’ll shape right up again.
GEORGE FISHER: It’s getting late, though, Gil.
MAN: I know it is, yeah.
GEORGE FISHER: And you know, my machine is moving so damn slowly that … you know, the swaths I have are really big swaths, and the machine isn’t going to be able to go in first gear in high range, maybe.
MAN: George, it’s typical this time of year the/weather doesn’t really settle down until we get a shot of snow, and then it really makes it look impossible. The snow disappears, and a few days of drying, and we go back to work and everything’s fine again. The minute you lay it down now, you can almost pick it right up.
GEORGE FISHER: Well, like, my hard wheat is — you know, you can still bite through the kernel, it’s filled and stuff, but … I just started swathing again yesterday and I got some more stuff down it.
MAN: It’s pretty ripe, though, isn’t it
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah. It’s dead ripe now. Okay. Well, I don’t know. I guess that I just really kind of — whoosh! — lost some sleep last night, so …. (Shot of gas station in rain.) (George and Hansine rounding up horses.)
GEORGE FISHER: Come on, Warpaint! Come on! Come on, girl!
HANSINE FISHER: Warpaint!
GEORGE FISHER: Look at that, they’re really fighting for the oats tonight. Horses are keeping the cows off.
HANSINE FISHER: Come here!
GEORGE FISHER: Come here, girl. It’s all right. Easy. It’s all right. Easy now, come on. Easy — easy. You’re going to go home tonight .
HANSINE FISHER: Come on I
GEORGE FISHER: You’re shivering a little bit, huh? Why don’t you get on the… Come on, Warpaint, come on, girl. Damn! You want some oats?
HANSINE FISHER: Come on, Warpaint.
GEORGE FISHER: Oh, let’s catch her.
HANSINE FISHER: Come on, Warpaint. You know, we shouldn’t have poured the bucket out.
GEORGE FISHER: Easy now, easy.
HANSINE FISHER: George, don’t push her, don’t push her. Easy, Warpaint. Come on. Good girl. You’re shivering. We’ll get you home in just a minute.
GEORGE FISHER: Easy! Easy! Easy, girl! Whoa there, whoa — whoa, whoa.
HANSINE FISHER: Easy — easy, Warpaint.
GEORGE FISHER: Easy now, whoa.
HANSINE FISHER: Got him? Good luck. I bet it’ll be quick.
GEORGE FISHER: Whoa now, whoa. I
HANSINE FISHER: Maybe if you just let her run loose she’ll follow along, George. (Washing dishes in kitchen. Child crying.)
GEORGE FISHER: Coming, coming. Oh, sweetie. Oh, boy, we got problems. There, there. Yeah, I know. It’s all right. All over you and your ears. Oh, boy. (On telephone): I’m calling about Spencer. He hasn’t been able to hold anything down. Okay. Why don’t we do that. Let’s see, it’ll probably be fifteen minutes, anyway. Okay … good. Thanks a lot. Bye bye. (In examining room. Spencer crying.)
DOCTOR: Open wide — open wide. See, the tonsils — he’s got something on his tonsils.
GEORGE FISHER: You’re not going to like this, Spencer. (Spencer cries louder.)
DOCTOR: All done. Okay, now for a big reward. (Blows up balloon.) There we go … there we go. (At farmhouse.)
HANSINE FISHER: Poor Spencer.
GEORGE FISHER: He’s been rather needy all day.
HANSINE FISHER: Come here … come here. Oh, yes. I missed you. Oh, you smell like you threw up, too. Yeah .
GEORGE FISHER: Threw up all over the sofa and himself.
HANSINE FISHER: The new sofa?
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah.
HANSINE FISHER: Did you get it cleaned up pretty much?
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah. After carrying him around for two or three hours he gets kind of heavy.
HANSINE FISHER: Yeah. How long did Wilson think Spencer would be sick?
GEORGE FISHER: I didn’t ask.
HANSINE FISHER: Or how long he’s had it? Some people at the book club were saying something was going around.
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah. That’s what Alice said.
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, my. You sure smell like throw-up, though. (Checking rain gauge.)
GEORGE FISHER: Just short of a half inch. One, two, three, four, five. Seventeen even. I don’t know, you don’t know whether to bless it or curse it, it’s — you really need the moisture to get the crop. No way around it. If you have the moisture, you have the crop. But you never seem to get it at the right time, and never in moderation. (Laughs. ) One way or another. (In living room. Spencer crying.)
GEORGE FISHER: There we go! Oh, boy! Okay. Oh, yeah, I know. Tough bananas, isn’t it? (Hansine giving piano lesson.)
HANSINE FISHER: Very good. Okay. Now we have “Happy Times.” (Child plays.) (George in workshop.)
TELEVISION NEWSCASTER: In the nation’s weather we have snow; Montana, in the southwestern corner of that state, a foot of snow on the ground today, Lewistown, three inches on the ground, Evanston with four inches — Evanston, Wyoming, with four inches on the ground. And tomorrow night we can look for a low, the first time this year, I guess, around freezing — 32 tomorrow night. Not tonight, but tomorrow night. And there is a possibility of some snow…
GEORGE FISHER: Oh, lord.
TELEVISION NEWSCASTER: … mixed with rain on tap for us tonight, so take care of your gardens if you have anything growing outside, tomatoes or whatever.
GEORGE FISHER: (in grain field) Soaking wet. (In farmhouse. Spencer crying)
HANSINE FISHER: (giving medicine to Spencer) It’s all right. I think he just swallowed that straight out. Oh, my… oh, my.
GEORGE FISHER: And the continuing saga of life at the Fishers’ continues. Spencer, would you give us all a break?
HANSINE FISHER: Come on … come on. (Spencer continues crying.)
GEORGE FISHER: Why don’t I just take him upstairs? Let him get himself cried out. Time is up, Spencer. (Takes Spencer from room.) (Next morning.)
TELEVISION NEWSCASTER: Good morning. Our weather picture calling for frost or freeze warnings in the western Dakotas tonight. This morning Dickinson has 41 degrees, Minot 44, Bismarck 44, and Williston 42, very windy. A cooperative observer near Williston reported twenty-four hour total rainfall of 1.65 inches. Cloudy, windy and cold, but should be clearing by tonight, partly cloudy and cool tomorrow.
GEORGE FISHER: (Examining grain in field) It feels dry to the touch, and the kernel’s hard to the bite… sort of. It might be ready to combine; the only way we’re going to do it is take a test and take it over to the elevator and have them test for moisture in it. We have to get it down to about thirteen-five before we can combine it for long-term storage.
FARMER: . (At grain elevator) What have you got?
GEORGE FISHER: I’ve got a little barley and a little wheat. Just took a little bit of both just to kind of find out…
FARMER: Hard wheat?
GEORGE FISHER: … find out where they are.
FARMER: Feels harder than mine. Mine’s dirtier than yours. (Both men laugh.)
FARMER: Yours is harder than mine.
GEORGE FISHER: No, I don’t think so. Not much. Not by much.
ELEVATOR MANAGER: Seventeen-four.
GEORGE FISHER: Oh, Jesus. (Laughs.) That’s what you call too wet.
ELEVATOR MANAGER: That’s the driest I’ve seen so far.
GEORGE FISHER: (Laughing.) Is that right?
FARMER: Try again this afternoon.
GEORGE FISHER: Should be down to fourteen, fifteen.
FARMER: Yeah. Four o’clock.
ELEVATOR MANAGER: Barley’s fourteen. Oh, that’s good-looking .
GEORGE FISHER: Fair enough. You’re going to let me go on this, huh?
ELEVATOR MANAGER: Yep.
GEORGE FISHER: You’re going to take fourteen on the barley?
ELEVATOR MANAGER: Let you go on that.
GEORGE FISHER: You got any more room for barley anymore?
ELEVATOR MANAGER: I won’t have nothin’ til Tuesday.
GEORGE FISHER: Well, in the meantime I’m going to go pick up some barley.
(George and Hansine operating combine in field.)
GEORGE FISHER: For myself, I feel a very individual sense of accomplishment having, you know, started from scratch and having the harvest in here lends itself to a really strong sense of … well, it just does the ego a hell of a lot of good.
HANSINE FISHER: One always thinks of harvests as being endings, but for us — or for me, anyway — it really feels like a beginning. You know, we’ve sort of arrived to the point to really … go. And it’s exciting. I mean, it’s more exciting than it was last spring when we were putting the crop in the ground, and even when we moved here, you know? It’s like— I don’t know what it’s like. I
GEORGE FISHER: It’s good.
HANSINE FISHER: Yeah.
GEORGE FISHER: It’s just good. (Country Western singer over shots of harvest celebration.) (Evening at Fisher farmhouse, then morning.)
GEORGE FISHER: (on telephone) Hello, Carrie. This is George. Did I get you up? No? Okay. It looks like it’s going to be this morning sometime, the next few hours. And so Spencer’s still asleep, but I thought that if you could come and get him in a little while … okay? Okay. Thanks. Bye-bye. (In bedroom, getting ready for Hansine’s delivery.)
DOCTOR: Now, what about the suction mold, where’s that? Okay, you want to open that for me?
GEORGE FISHER: One minute.
DOCTOR: Well, keep me informed. I’m probably going to lie down and go to sleep. (Later.)
DOCTOR: Another one? All right.
HANSINE FISHER: Not quite so hard .
GEORGE FISHER: Like that?
HANSINE FISHER: Yeah.
GEORGE FISHER: Just run with it. (Hansine forcibly expels breath.)
HANSINE FISHER: What’s happening?
DOCTOR: You’re bulging now. Head is vertical now. Few more like that and you’ll do pretty well.
WENDY: Would you like a little ice again, Hansine?
HANSINE FISHER: No.
WENDY: Okay. Should get one of those big Egyptian-style fans. Keep pushing as long as it’s there … that’s good. (Hansine expels breath loudly.)
GEORGE FISHER: Again. Let it go. There we go.
WENDY: Have you ever tried it where you grab your knees to push?
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, yeah, I read it. Yeah, that probably would help.
WENDY: Try it and see if it works for you, all right?
HANSINE FISHER: Thanks, Wendy, I remember we practiced that.
GEORGE FISHER: Ready?
WENDY: That’s it, just pull them back and push.
DOCTOR: You’re doing fine. Good, good. As long as you have a contraction; and when you have no contraction, relax.
WENDY: No, it’s crowning, you can see the little head.
DOCTOR: Yeah … yeah.
WENDY: Grab around here. That’s it.
DOCTOR: Grab on your knees. That’s the way.
WENDY: That’s the way; that’s good.
GEORGE FISHER: Here we go — here we go.
WENDY: That’s good. (Hansine expels several breaths.)
DOCTOR: I think we’re going to have to do an episiotomy.
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, it hurts!
WENDY: Just keep pushing as long as it’s there; catch your breath when you need to.
GEORGE FISHER: You’re winning, you’re winning.
WENDY: Try and relax a little. That’s good.
DOCTOR: Hansine, I think with the next pain I will do a small midline episiotomy. I don’t know if you can hear me now.
HANSINE FISHER: (Breathing heavily.) Yeah.
DOCTOR: I think that’s going to be necessary. Do you want any sort of anesthetic there, or just go ahead?
HANSINE FISHER: Just —
DOCTOR: I’ll go ahead when you’re having your pain so you don’t feel it so much.
HANSINE FISHER: Oh, it’s coming again. (Expels another breath.)
GEORGE FISHER: Stay with it.
DOCTOR: Stay with it. When it stops, relax.
GEORGE FISHER: Here we come!
HANSINE FISHER: There it is! (Laughs gleefully.)
DOCTOR: All right. The cord’s twice around the neck.
HANSINE FISHER: — oh.
DOCTOR: It’s all right. Two times around the neck.
GEORGE FISHER: There we go!
WENDY: I think you got your girl.
HANSINE FISHER: I did! It’s a girl! (Laughs.) Yes! (Baby cries.) (General laughter and chatter.)
DOCTOR: Okay, you’re on your own now. Just pull up your shirt there — that’s it.
GEORGE FISHER: Oh, look at that.
HANSINE FISHER: She’s a dear.
GEORGE FISHER: (Laughing.)
HANSINE FISHER: (to baby) Hello … hello. Yes ….
GEORGE FISHER: I’d expected her to be like Spencer, you know, half talking
HANSINE FISHER: Yeah. (Later.)
NEIGHBOR: How are you feeling?
HANSINE FISHER: Pretty good. I don’t think I’m going to go combining today, but …
NEIGHBOR: I was just wondering, I thought maybe we’d go out and make a couple of rounds. (Laughter.)
HANSINE FISHER: I don’t think today. Tomorrow, maybe.
NEIGHBOR: Tomorrow maybe? You’re a tough woman.
HANSINE FISHER: Yep. (Laughter.)
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: For goodness’ sake.
HANSINE FISHER: Have you seen her?
GEORGE FISHER: (on phone) Well, she’s standing right here, but she can talk to you. Hold on just a moment. It’s Doris. Well, here she is, Chris. (Hands baby to Christensen.)
NEIGHBOR: Wide awake and kicking all the way.
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: For goodness’ sake. You don’t know how I’ve been feeling since you called, George.
GEORGE FISHER: How do you mean?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Just … all excited with joy.
GEORGE FISHER: Yeah, I know. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: Oh, boy. I got all excited after you called. I couldn’t eat anything. I’m not kidding you.
GEORGE FISHER: I know how you feel, I really do. (Laughing.)
CHRIS CHRISTENSEN: For goodness’ sake. Congratulations, George.
GEORGE FISHER: Thank you. Yeah, well, wait a minute here. We gotta do this up right, you know. Here you go. (Hands Christensen a cigar.) (Laughter.)
BILL MOYERS: (over shots of farmhouse, cemetery, Fisher farm): hardly a century ago that the first homesteaders ventured onto Great Plains and put their plows to the endless seas of grass. It was these By blood and by spirit, Hansine and George Fisher are their heirs troubled, restive, searching … but tough, too. And proud. Like the settlers before them, leaving one life for another, they have made a passage. Not many of us can imitate it, despite the nostalgic yearning of an urban society for a Norman Rockwell past. Ideally, it never existed anyway. Life down on the farm was anything but easy. And nowadays, industrialization, mechanization and federal government policies have made farming a big business. For all their work last year, and after operating and living costs were met, the Fishers made a net profit of $610. So small farmers are fewer than ever, and all across these plains the little towns have been emptying; the farmhouses stand abandoned: a way of life on the edge of extinction. George and Hansine Fisher are going against their times. They may not make it. But you hope they do, for their sake, for the beleaguered tradition of independent farmers, and for all of us, farmers or not, who take heart from small successes and fresh starts. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on May 6, 2015.