My Big Brother

me-steve-shep-1963I cried at my big brother’s wedding in 1974. I was newly 12 and he was nearing 20. I cried because he would be moving away. Granted, he was moving only to the next farm, a short jaunt across the field, but still. No longer would he be living in our family’s home, in the room just across the hall from mine. I was reminded of this last week, upon the occasion of his 43rd wedding anniversary. As they say, time flies.

Back then my big brother farmed with our dad. At first he milked cows on the farm where he lived. But soon a bigger barn was built on the home place, and both dairy herds were combined. Then I again saw my big brother every day, as we worked together on the farm.

For the record, he worked at a far greater rate than I did. He was a farmer and I was his kid sister, and not all that adept at farm work. So I forgive him for that one time he said I should have been a boy — “Larry” rather than Laura — because maybe then I’d be more useful. However, I guess he didn’t mind my inability too much, because he didn’t even yell at me that time when he was teaching me how to rake hay and I nearly knocked him off the Allis-Chalmers tractor, as I learned the importance of the clutch.

Overall, he looked out for me. When I was in 8th grade, he lent me his roller skates so I could practice before a class trip to the town roller rink. His skates were a little big, but they fit good enough that I could learn to keep my balance as I skated laps across the cement floor of our machine shop.

When I fell out of the hay mow and landed, screaming, on the barn floor, he ran to my side ready to offer aid, along with Dad and the veterinarian, who happened to be in the barn at the time. Luckily I was bruised but not broken, and needed no special care from the vet or other medical practitioner.

Otherwise, we milked cows and baled hay and fed calves and scooped silage and whatever else needed to be done — just being a farming big brother and his kid sister.

Then I left home — first for college, then a job, then marriage and graduate school, and a career at Iowa State University. For nearly 29 years I’ve been making a life in Iowa with my husband and kids, some 340 miles away from my big brother. But I keep coming back to the farm. And big brother and his family always welcome me home. Guess he’s still looking out for me.

For that I thank you, big brother. I hope you had a happy anniversary. I’ll see you again on the farm, and soon.

Laura Sternweis


To Donald and Marguerite

mom-dad-coats-1950-cropped-300wShe was young and so was he the day that they were wed. Nineteen hundred and fifty. It was true love, they said.

A lovely bride, a handsome groom, a crisp September morn: A wedded love of 53 years, that autumn day, was born.

Commitment lasting through and through: from “Cows are out!” to “Light bill’s due!” From “Go get parts!” to “Call the vet!” to “Have they fixed that combine yet?”

The years brought seven children, too — with glasses, braces, clothes, and shoes, meetings, concerts, games, and plays, open houses, and snow days.

So happy anniversary, Sweet Mama and Dear Dad. I love you oh so truly. You’re my folks — for that, I’m glad.


Welcome to my bad poetry. I originally wrote this poem to honor my parents on their 45th wedding anniversary in 1995. I gave it to them as an anniversary card, and then forgot about the poem. But my mother did not. She kept the card. After her death in 2004, I got it back, along with every other card I’d sent to her in the past 20 years or so.

I found the card again a few weeks ago, when digging through an old trunk full of memories, so I decided to update it. Mom and Dad celebrated their last anniversary together, on Earth anyway, on Sept. 28, 2003, thus the 53 in my awkward poem. But in heavenly years, who’s counting? They’re together forever.

Laura Sternweis