The scene has been frozen in time for decades yet I saw it in a new light as I passed by it the other morning…

mona farm4best

On a rugged bluff of the Great Plains sits a modest farmhouse. The surroundings are typical for our neck of the woods, with familiar icons like fence posts and wild grass. A landscape of burnt umber, raw sienna and yellow ochre paints a picture that can only take place on the prairie. The scene is solemn and seems to depict that feeling of loneliness one can often have in a rural space. The focus of the painting is an intertwined loop of barbed wire resting upon a post. This makes you think perhaps the inspiration for this piece is not an existing location but rather a homestead in the mind of the artist; an isolated sense of hope among the wild westward expansion when all you had to define yourself and prove your strength was a roll of fencing to stake your claim. I have often thought that the prosperity of pioneers was less about the land and had more to do with resilience. You can pass both things on to future generations but only one makes you honorable. I think that might be what the artist was brilliantly conveying in the strokes of a brush and the placement of earthy pigment.

I guess I could ask her.

This particular watercolor was done by Mona Peterson, my Mom’s friend of so many years I would be scolded if I shared the number. The painting was gifted to my parents shortly after they moved to a farm south of Funk, Nebraska. It was the first home I remember with precise clarity and when I think back on our farmstead I think of Mona’s painting. It held court in our living room and has ever since; surviving many a moves and even my Mom’s memorable redecorating phase of the 1980’s. 

mona farm1

It was only when I re-examined this painting that I realized Mona has been documenting my family for years, highlighting our best moments and celebrating our memories.

I think it all started when Mona made a trunk for a wedding gift for my parents. It was the early 1970’s and skirts were short and weddings were casual… 

mona trunk

Since that wedding day, Mona’s trunk has been a place we have kept our sacred family possessions. Over the years the trunk has been filled with documents, news clippings, baby teeth acquired by the Tooth Fairy, letters to Santa, too many ashtrays made of clay to mention and photos; LOTS of photos. This trunk dates back to a time when people actually developed film. I can still remember my Mom specifically telling my brother and me, “If there is a fire, the only thing you grab is Mona’s trunk!”  It was sort of an impossible task to ask of a child. Even in our thirties and thankfully fit, there is NO WAY my brother and I could move that thing more than a few feet. 

However, if I was to be at my parent’s home and there was a fire, I would utilize all my strength to save our homemade time capsule.

Mona went on to paint a picture of my brother and me on a raft at our family cabin on Plum Creek…

Mona raft

It was a gift to my Mom on her 30th birthday, shortly after the passing of both her parents.

When our hometown of Holdrege celebrated its Centennial, we acquired a painting by Mona that depicted her son, niece and nephew in ceremonial pioneer attire…

mona pioneer2

The image connected us to our roots.

When our family decided to uproot and move to the west coast, Mona commemorated the moment with a “Bon Voyage” gift for my Mom…

mona & beth2

 It was a painting of the two of them at a themed party in their youth that began with a raid of my Great-Grandmother Hazel’s closet…

Beth & Mona2

I love that this particular painting has an inscription on the back:

mona hard times back

mona hard times back2

To put things in perspective, Mona’s son Michael that scribbled his name in the lower right hand corner is now a married man and has taken over the Peterson Family Farm.

I mentioned to my Mom that I was writing a blog post about Mona’s artwork and she quickly ran to her hutch and pulled out a delicate teapot. “Make sure to write about this”, she said with absolute conviction…

Mona teapot

I remember this tea pot as it dates back to the days of our farm house. Much like all of Mona’s artwork, it was always a staple in our home. I asked Mom when Mona painted it for her and she couldn’t remember. While holding it in her hands and carefully brushing over the image she said, “I think it was when somebody died.”  I knew that my Mom’s failure to recall the specific occasion of this particular gift of Mona’s artwork had nothing to do with appreciation. My Mom’s hutch is reserved for only a very few special things. 

My Mom and Mona have experienced a lot of things in their storied friendship. Upon graduating from Holdrege High School they shared an apartment in the “city” and enjoyed a brief existence that must have rivaled that of “Laverne & Shirley”. They have grieved for each other in their darkest days. They have shared those kinds of belly laughs that cause you to lose your breath, slap your knee and pee in your pants a little bit. In short, they define each other. Over the years, the level of definition may have changed but it is always there. I doubt it will ever vanish.

mona & mom close up

 

 

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Scott Rager

Robert Scott Rager is a Nebraska native who returned home to start a boutique business called "County Seat Living". His personal goal for "County Seat" is to translate the lifestyle design he was creating in Los Angeles for the past twelve years and apply it to the sensibility of the Great Plains. Whether he's writing about decorating, homemade ice cream, floral creations, event planning or product design, he wants the personality and style of Nebraska to shine bright.

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