Alan Guebert’s book The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey may have been inspired by a little homemade wine.
Guebert, has been writing his nationally syndicated column “The Farm and Food File” since 1993. The first seed of what would become The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey was planted with a column written around 30 years ago.
A departure from his usual beat of covering the agribusiness issues facing farmers and consumers, Guebert’s holiday-themed column that week was a personal story. It began as follows…
The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered our farm. Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby woodstove. Yellowed Christmas cards, saved over the years and perched like doves on the untrimmed branches, served as ornaments.
“I believe this is the prettiest tree I’ve ever had,” Howard proclaimed as we stood in its glow. “And its smells good, too.”
The only scent evident to me was a mixture of wood smoke and the remains of a fried pork supper. But I lied and said, “Sure does.”
Howard beckoned me to sit. We had shared this Christmas Day in the dairy barn and it was his request that we share a bit of the night, also. He knew I was alone because my family, his employer, was visiting relatives in town. I knew he was alone because he was always alone, a bachelor for nearly forty years.
“I’ll get us some Christmas cheer,” he offered as I sank into the sofa. In untied work shoes, he shuffled toward the kitchen. A minute later, he returned with two water glasses filled with rhubarb wine. We raised them to the day.
The remembrance of Christmas with Howard, a hired hand on his family’s farm, saw twice the reader response that Guebert usually received. Over the years other personal stories made their way into “The Farm and Food File” as well, including some of the adventures of Guebert’s Uncle Honey, a force of both joy and destruction on the southern Illinois dairy farm.
In the video below the author talks about that first column with the personal touch, and about the simple joys found on the farm during the holidays.