The Heroines

Mary McFarland Farley

is honored with a Brick from Jim Farley.


Mary Zelpha McFarland Farley was born in Gamaliel, Arkansas, to John McFarland and Rose Henson McFarland on December 5, 1908. She was one of a dozen children with seven brothers (Carrol, Rob, Bud, Elza, Paul, the twins Merle and Earl) and four sisters (Gert, Sis, Ollie and Maude). She married Jesse Farley on October 14, 1923. She died on December 25, 1995, in South Haven, Kansas.

The quiet but strong-willed girl of fourteen had run the bases for the Gamaliel baseball team, being too small to hit, but faster around the bases than any of the boys. She had caught the attention of Jesse at a community dance or church social, and they were married even though Grandpa was a few months shy of twenty-one.

They left Howard's Ridge, Missouri, on December 1, 1923, in the company of Jesse's brother Warnie and his wife Emma. Their wedding trip in covered wagons occupied the first eighteen days of that cold and wet December. They were sustained by their young love, hardy pioneer constitutions, and a crock full of sausage.

They lived in Wellington that first winter while Jesse worked with a team of horses and a slip or simple earth mover helping to build U.S. highway 81. They moved in the spring to his parents' farm near Milan, and worked for a farmer (Henry Bush) who helped them rent their own place in August. All their children--Earl, Warnie, Loue and Lola Farley Brabander--were born at that farm. Jesse and Zelpha moved to the farm three miles east of Rome in 1943, and then bought their own farm in 1951 where they lived until moving to the care home.

Grandma, or "Zeph" as Grandpa called her, worked and loved hard all her life. It seems like life kept tossing Grandma in the ditch, from the time in Coffeyville when her wagon was run off the road by the streetcar to the time she and two granddaughters were forced off the road by the county truck in Oklahoma. But she kept trying. When the Model T stalled and began rolling back down the hill, she jumped out and placed a rock behind a back wheel, crushing her finger. When her youngest son was suffocating beneath the oppressive bulk of a haystack, she pulled him out and revived him in a cold spring. When Grandpa lost his faculties, she helped him even as he had stood by her in her infirmity.

Storm clouds came out of the Kansas sky and darkened Grandma's mind, sweeping her away from those she loved. Lightning struck out from the clouds and the turbulence could only be locked away. When medicine became available to control the tempest, Grandma spent more time at home on the farm she worked with Grandpa.

Grandma loved children, and she didn't worry too much about how they came to be in her circle of love, even though she could give you all the relationships on the family tree if you were interested. She was always happy to get company. She was tickled to see you whether you lived near or far, whether you had seen her yesterday or last year. There were always new pictures of grandkids or great-grandkids, news to tell, and treasures to show. If you had lost track of things or just wanted to know about someone, Grandma was the repository of family news, but she wasn't judgmental. She had a wonderful memory about family because she kept those things, like another Mary did, in her heart.

During harvest or haying, the highlight of the day was dinner time when you could expect fried chicken or pork chops or steak with potatoes and gravy and chocolate pudding or spice cake or pie for dessert. Her chicken and homemade egg noodles were beyond compare. She and Grandpa always raised a flock of chickens from the fuzzy chicks at Easter in the brooder coop to the strutting fryers in the barnyard destined for the table in July. She loved to bake and we loved to eat what she baked.

Although she couldn't bring herself to attend funerals, she loved to go to weddings. She enjoyed going to town on Saturday, getting her hair fixed, and attending her club meetings. She loved having a dog around the place.

Mary Zelpha McFarland Farley's life was marked by long journeys, struggles out of the mud, bountiful harvests, the pain of need, the golden brilliance of sunshine, the peace of a soft summer rain, and the turbulence of a tornado.

Submitted by Jim Farley

September 11, 1998