Who Am I This Time?
The Farmer's Wife, That's Who.

by Sasha Stone

When life's difficulties threaten to swirl me down the drain, I look to, and hopefully become, the title character in David Southerland's Frontline documentary, Juanita Buschkoetter. With her graceful posture, her long, slim legs, those dark, brooding eyes, even that snaggle-toothed smile, Juanita is a true muse to all struggling people, not just moms, not just farmer's wives, but anyone who has enough stuff to realize a dream.

Realizing a dream isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. Your goals have to be neatly placed within sight, like a bone in front of a greyhound. It's much easier to settle in to the comfortable arms of failure. Failure and I go way back. We'd been huddled together for most of my adult life, having become closely aquainted when I realized just how hard it was going to be to do what I wanted to do. It took me a long time of falling down and getting back up to even be able to be in the same class as Juanita Buschkoetter. Somehow this exceptional woman, married out of high school, with no formal education, has wisdom and insight that surpass most educated people, most people in general, that I've come across in my life. She knows what's important in life. She's got it all in perspective. She's a hard worker, an honest woman, and was born smart as a whip.

Like Juanita, it all becomes too much to bear at times. When Darrel's anger explodes he calls her an "ugly bitch," which makes her cry. She doesn't excuse him, she holds him accountable, but she also has an enormous capacity to forgive. Darrel's not a bad guy, all things considered. Truth is, when Juanita grows, he notices. Sooner or later, he catches up. It's not what it seems, though. It's not a quiet acceptance of an abusive relationship where the wife just tunes out the harsh words of her incompetant husband who is too weak to even try to be a better person. It's that Darrel, like Juanita, is working damned hard. And sometimes it gets to him too.

So I see Juanita in my mind's eye when I'm bending down to scrub the floor or washing up the dishes or taking out the trash and feeling sorry for myself because taking care of a child is such a massive undertaking. I am continually inspired by Juanita, to an absurd degree, to remember what's important. A Halloween party she holds for her daughters' friends that only cost around $5, clothes bought at the Salvation Army and garage sales, filling up Darrel's plate so he won't notice they couldn't afford to buy any meat that month, paying attention to each of her three daughters enough to help with homework, say goodnight, give hairuts, clean other people's houses for extra cash, all the while unashamed, busy realizing a dream.

Dreams can be simple. Sometimes it's the simple ones that are the most difficult to accomplish. Things didn't work out for Juanita like she thought they would. She wasn't able to just stay home with the kids and be a good wife. The modern world interfered. So, being the self-respecting goddess that she is, Juanita went back to college and got her AA degree then took a full time job. That might not seem like much to you readers. But here's the thing: the farmer's wife, not the farmer, emerged the hero.

The family worked together, it's true. Poor Darrel worked himself gray-headed to keep the farm from going under. But it's the wife, it's Juanita who held the family together, who held the dream together.

So here I am this time, keeping alive the farmer's wife in me. Just knowing she exists makes the every day chore of life somehow easier. That oddly beautiful woman, who might have faded into the midwestern landscape were it not for the smart, loving eye of Southerland's camera, setting ablaze a lean, dark-eyed figure, a Lauren Bacall of Nebraska. If I can teach my daughter to stand tall, to give her dream a chance, knowing it's going to require tiny successes; if she can see the Juanita in me, the world won't seem like an endless drought threatening the crops, but instead, a dream coming true.


CineScene 1999