I received a response to one of my columns once that made me think in a whole way about what it means to grow up on the farm.
If you grew up there, you lived on the farm long enough to call it your home, doing the work that the farm required.
For those children who worked outside, they would get up when they had to and not when they wanted to, whether the sun was up or not, even in elementary school.
They learned to drive pick-up trucks and tractors at a young age because their help was needed as soon as possible.
But just because you knew how to run a tractor didn’t mean you knew it all. There was learning how to run a manure spreader, swather, baler, cultivator, tillage equipment, water tanks, and eventually the sprayer, planter, combine and semi truck.
All of this learning may or may not have taken place with a patient teacher – and surely every kid has a story to tell about that, along with their farmer dads – cultivator blight and all.
There’s learning how to work with livestock, whether vaccinating, sorting, loading, birthing, 0r chasing them.
You have to know when yelling is a hindrance or a help. (Farmers sometimes have needed a crash course in learning how to work with farm women as well. If you’re talking farm wives, yelling at her is usually a hindrance to what you’re trying to accomplish – just in case you haven’t figured that one out for yourself.)
There are long hours to contend with, even as a kid; and chores that need to be done no matter if it’s in sultry weather, or in double digits below zero; in knee-deep mud, or two feet of snow. There are barns to clean out, whether it’s overdue with bedding and manure, or whether someone left the water running, flooding the barn. (Don’t ask how I know about that one.)
And what about those frozen waterers that need to be fixed? Yet another how-to lesson for the farm kid.
There are animals that die and must be buried, but probably not one more difficult than the family dog, who often is like the farm kid’s best friend, and the farmer’s hired man when it comes to chasing livestock and guarding gates.
Farm kids learn very young that everything that is born eventually dies or must be sold. That last one’s tough for young farm kids, too, and even the older ones on 4-H sale day.
For the female children who may have done more work in the house, there was copious amounts of cooking at all hours of the day and night. When I was growing up on the farm, there was breakfast, dinner, lunch and then supper. And there was sometimes mid-morning lunch to contend with in addition, if there were neighbors helping Dad and my brothers get the work done.
We swept acres of dirt, corn and mud off of the basement steps and out of the basement, and cared for sick baby pigs in the living room by the oil burner, where it was nice and warm. You have to save every one.
The farmer’s daughter and would-be farm wife learned how to wash manure-covered clothing and quickly learned the value of a dark-colored towel by the sink. She knew that a good pair of coveralls saved on laundry, keeping so much of the livestock’s “ending stocks,” so to speak, off of blue jeans.
Clothes lines with those large farm families kept farm girls trim and from having flabby upper arms. It was a lot of hauling in and out of the house, bending over, and reaching up and down to attach and remove clothes from Mother Nature’s dryer.
Enter the woman who wrote to me with a different version of “growing up on the farm.” She said she grew up in town, but moved onto the farm when she was 18. “Although I didn’t live on the farm until then, I guess you could say I grew up on the farm,” she told me.
And I knew what she was saying. It was then that she understood what responsibility really was – something that farm kids learn at an early age. It was there that she truly matured because she had to. There was no one else to do the things she had to do on the farm.
At age 18, she began her next chapter of growing up.
When you look at the big picture about what it means to live on the farm, it goes without saying that while the farmer’s wife may deliver a boy, the farmer delivers a man.
Along with the next generation of farmers and farm wives.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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