I often identify as being a farm kid and joke that if in a large room of people, the farm kids will gravitate toward each other (I also hold this theory about lapsed Catholics). While my sister will attest, I was bad at being a farm kid. I worked hard at it, I did what I was told (most of the time)… but I wasn’t the one my Dad would want to come and help him if he had a choice, that was my (slightly) older sister. But during one of the summers in the mid-80’s, my family found itself in quite a spot. One that required my Dad to take a job on road construction, while the rest of the family stayed home to keep the farm functional. To the bet of my recollection I was 11 and my sis was 12 when all this went down. With the help of a *very* interesting and colorful hired man (there is a chapter in a book waiting to be written about this whole summer), my sister and I were basically ‘running’ the farm… milk cows and all. We also had a field (acres and acres) of newly planted Christmas trees to water (by hand that summer, no rain) and a kennel of 40 dogs. On top of that there was a massive vegetable garden and summer school.
Now I offer this story up, as I did many times when I was teaching, to illustrate one point… the hardest I’ve ever worked happened before I was 12. That was a gift. Everything else, that I chose (teaching), is not ‘work’… it’s just living the life I choose. Knowing the difference is important.
I was not meant to be a farmer, I knew this early on. This summer I’ve been home on the farm a ton, watching the day to day machinations of the life in a way I have not been able to in a long time. I’m not sure how many people realize the complexities of the job and the sheer exhaustion of it. I sat in a field last night watching my Dad and brother (I was summoned to pick up them up at 9:30pm as they were past dark and only had tractors to drive home) fix a baler. And it occurred to me that neither of them was a mechanic, but at some point every farmer is a mechanic and they are a vet and they are a meteorologist and and and… they take these crazy conditions of intersecting weather, machines, animals and life and put out the raw materials that make life for the rest of the country possible, at the most basic level.
So on this Fourth of July, my family is usually at a parade waving flags and eating a chicken dinner at the local festival… but this year the weather timed it all so that we’re haying. Its just how the job goes. Calves are born at inconvenient times for attending family dinners, machines break down when you really needed to be home and hay needs to be raked and baled on holidays (sometimes).
And as this all transpires, I am grateful that my parents were supportive in letting me live the life I choose AND also grateful that so many Americans chose to be farmers… it really is a gift for the rest of us.