Orrin T. Pierson was one of three uncles on my father's side who passed away before I was born. I know them only through personal remembrances, photographs, letters and other writings. I write about Orrin again here because across the decades he plays such a prominent role in my own reflections on life's triumphs, tragedies, frustrations and regrets. I am especially drawn to him by a book of his columns that Cousin Sue thoughtfully sent my way several years ago. His commitment to both writing and farming - transposed to my life and work - puts him right at the heart of some of the personal and professional tensions I've experienced over the years. So below I try to summarize a bit of his role in work and community as something that resembles a foundation for the book I'm struggling to author about my life in Oracle, AZ.
Orrin hired on as Farm Editor and thrice weekly columnist for the Middletown Times Herald. His columns were run as entries in “The Gleaner” through which he emerged as the town’s master story teller. Sensitivity to the rhythms, demands, frustrations and rewards of farming suffused his writing. In those thousand or more columns, Orrin’s honesty about his own shortcomings along with celebrations of his hard won triumphs enlivened his work. Perhaps to some farmers in the region he was welcomed as a sort of prodigal son returning to his father’s birthplace from an extended sojourn in Denver, Colorado and the American West.
What strikes me in reading Orrin’s columns collected in Off Our Back Stoep, The Chronicle of a Farmer’s Year is their grounding in acute observation of farm and community life - along with wit, heart and wisdom. I suspect hIs efforts helped the broader community better understand itself, shape its identity and lean in to the future more confidently.
The dedication of Off Our Back Stoep, The Chronicle of a Farmer’s Year by Orrin T Pierson reads: “This book is dedicated to my wife, Edna, my most constant friend and severest critic.”
Sadly Orrin didn’t live to see his book in print. On October 3, 1944 he fell victim to Bulbar Poliomyelitis, a decade before the Salk vaccine ended the scourge. His book was published posthumously by his family and newspaper colleagues “…as Mr. Pierson’s best claim to the remembrance of many admirers”. I count myself one of them.