I was having lunch with a friend recently. (If you were the guy I used to work with in youth ministry, you would tip your head down, look up from the top of your glasses and ask in a tone of disbelief and skepticism, “You have a friend?”)
I used to set myself up for that one every dang time.
But as we were talking, the conversation turned to what it was like to grow up on the farm as young girls.
Most of my friends lived in town, and back in the day, I would have given anything for that. It was cooler to live there. I wouldn’t have to drive 10 or 12 miles just to get to a town, wouldn’t need a good reason to go and could hang out with my friends.
I wouldn’t have to call long distance to talk to them (which was a huge issue back in the day), and I could even have an actual job instead of relying on baby-sitting money to give me the cash flow I needed.
It would be years before I actually would live in town and have a real job, which still didn’t give me the cash flow I needed.
I didn’t have my friends over all that often. I didn’t think they would like it because we were confined to the farm boundaries. In town we could walk or drive all over town, stop at a store and do nothing without feeling guilty about it.
But as we got to talking, my friend revealed that she had a sort of similar experience. She said her friends would tell her there was nothing to do at her farm when they came to stay.
She was a little stunned, because she said she never noticed it.
“We had, like, 50 kitties,” she said of the things that kept her happy and occupied on the farm as a young girl. But even then, she began to wonder if it was true that it wasn’t as cool to live on a farm as it was to live in town. So she consulted her mother.
“My mom asked me, ‘How many of your friends have four-wheelers?’ And I never really thought about that. We used to go four-wheeling all the time, and I never thought anything of it,” she said.
And perhaps that innocence, that being unaware that there is any other way of life, that is the beauty, and the great gift, of growing up on the farm.
As a farm child, my siblings and I were never lavished with things. Times were tough back then, too, and with seven children to raise, no one got a lot of anything except time – either working (my brothers, especially) or just being on the farm.
It would be years before I knew what a gift that was.
Maybe it was because of my own experience on the farm, or maybe it was our own lack of financial overflow, that we never lavished our children with a lot of things either. Our boys were in their glory working with their dad on the farm, handling livestock and learning how to operate all of the farm equipment as they got older.
It may be different for girls, though. Our daughter had to come home from school to do pig and sheep chores during fall harvest, wrestling season and spring planting, when all of her other friends could go shopping or do something fun after school.
Some of those years were tough for her, but today she also understands the great gift it was to have those daily chores to know that responsibility and to grow up on the farm.
My sisters and I had all kinds of things to take up our time – playing Annie Annie Over The (wash) House; playing kick ball over the high-wire in our farm yard; setting up a “house” in one room of the corn crib when Dad decided he didn’t need it that year; sitting on top of the brooder house just to talk; listening to our voices echo in empty grain bins; pretending the loading chute was a stage and using it on which to perform with our jump ropes as microphones; clothes-pinning playing cards to the spokes of our bike tires and riding down the big hill in our yard; and playing in the cool corn in the upper bins of the corn crib.
We also had a creek near our farm, which provided us a place to dip our toes in, and a place to ice skate.
On the farm, we were each other’s gift and each other’s investment of time.
Looking back, we really were country, when country wasn’t cool. We didn’t know any other way of life. And I would never trade that experience for any cash offering.
OK. Maybe for a certain amount. But it would have to be very, very high.
I gotta be honest.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at email@example.com.