Home on the Range

James E Roghair

Publisher: iUniverse Pages: 318 Price: (paperback) $24.99 ISBN: 9781663255020 Reviewed: March, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Home on the Range, James E. Roghair’s memoir of spending his “first 14 years (1943-1957) growing up on a wheat farm near Okaton, South Dakota,” reconstructs the vanished world of the author’s earliest memories with a keen sense of what will interest today’s readers.

Roghair covers his parents’ lives and personalities, his relationship to his three younger siblings, and the major events and general arc of his early life. But his focus is on the texture and distinctive features of life at the time, as spent on a farm without “running water, indoor plumbing, commercial electricity or telephone” and in a town with—by the time the family moved to more populous McMinnville, Oregon—fewer than 100 residents.

Readers learn about how the farm first got electrical light, when the author’s father personally installed a wind-powered Wincharger generator, supplementing but not supplanting kerosene lamps. Later, getting a telephone increased their connection to the outside world but reduced privacy, since it was a party line vulnerable to “rubbernecking” eavesdroppers. Perhaps most consequentially, the purchase of an electric iron relieved much of his mother’s domestic drudgery, although she continued to struggle with the isolated existence of a “prairie wife.” An important father-son bonding ritual consisted of yearly John Deere Days, when the nearest movie theater (ordinarily open only on Saturday) showed films of new agricultural machinery.

Roghair, later a Presbyterian pastor serving both geographically and ethnically diverse congregations, writes with an awareness of how limited and constraining this rural life might now sound, but also a sense of gratitude for its rewards: ”At night,” he recalls of the unelectrified landscape, “our darkness was pristine.”

At times, the author’s recollections fall into the mundane, as when describing his early school days. However, overall, his account of a not especially dramatic early life keeps and rewards readers’ attention through his eye for telling detail and his sure instinct for storytelling.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Available to buy at: