Saturday, May 30, 2009

Time on the Farm

I've mentioned before that most of my childhood memories are a bit blurry. Snapshots of time rather than video if you will. Some of my clearest memories are of the farm my father and step-mother had in North Carolina. They weren't there all that long and my time there only consisted of a couple of summers and one school year.

We never had a pet when I was young. We did have a cat when I was older. On the farm we had all kinds of animals. There were dogs, a terrier that loved to play ball and torment the bull, a collie with a mean streak and a couple of others that didn't stay long. We had some cows, mostly Charolais and a bull named Gordy. There was a hog lot and a smoke house. Chickens, turkeys and guinea hens. Best of all there were also a stubborn pony and quarter horse named Stormy.

I have very few pictures of the farm and none have been scanned yet. You came through the gate at the road and were greeted by two green tar papered tobacco barns. Straight ahead was a gate to the main pasture and just the other side of the gate was a pecan tree. (I can still see that tree and myself sitting under it, cracking nuts that I was supposed to be gathering.) The driveway took a turn to the left and continued down to the yard where there was a single wide trailer and two block buildings, one a smoke house and the other a pump house.

There was also a barn. My father got it in his head that being from the north he had to build a barn with a hip roof. Because it was in the south it was built up on blocks, well off of the ground. I was always under the impression that this was to keep out critters like snakes and rats but I fail to see how this would have stopped them so maybe there was another reason. Dad built it himself with the occasional help of a friend and of course us. The day he decided to but up the big aluminum sheets for the roof I seemed to be the only one around to help so he tied a rope around his middle, tossed it over the center beam and gave me the other end so I could haul him back over if he fell. Thankfully he didn't fall and I didn't get sling-shotted over to the hog lot!

Beyond the barn was the home garden. Up until my time on the farm I was familiar with peas and corn, both of which came in tin cans. We also had iceberg lettuce now and then. On the farm we grew all sorts of things I'd never heard of. There were collards, black-eyed peas, okra and tomatoes. Rows of potatoes and yams. Based on my memories I'd say that the garden had to have been at least half an acre, possibly more. I learned to hoe weeds and kill snakes. I learned how to can.

Our main crop was tobacco, which I've written about as My First Job. During the school year that I spent there I learned to mix the seed with sand and broadcast it in a small bed. Then we worried over it until it was big enough to transplant to the field. The small plants were pulled and laid very neatly in a basket. Then my step-sister and I sat on the back of a contraption that was pulled by the tractor and fed the plants into a wheel as it came around and set the plants in the field. There were several plants missed in the first row but I soon got the hang of it. Everything about tobacco was monotonous and there were days I thought I'd die of boredom.

It wasn't all work. We had a small pond and I can remember fishing with bamboo poles. I don't remember ever catching a fish but I do remember being terrified of both the snakes and snapping turtles that lived there. There was also the horse and pony to ride. What city kid wouldn't be thrilled to ride a horse? After I'd been led around on the horse for some time I was finally allowed to ride by myself in the pasture in front of the house. We started to fly around and it was pure joy. I headed back toward the house and everyone was yelling and waving their arms at me. Just in time I got the message that I was directing the horse straight for the hot-wire fence. It was a long time before I was allowed to ride alone again. Being short I always had a hard time getting on the horse and being younger I usually got stuck with the pony. Funny that I can't remember it's gender or it's name. The pony earned it's keep by pulling a cart and my step-mother also used it to plow one small field that we couldn't get the tractor into. It was a smart pony that didn't like to be ridden. The first time I saddled it myself it swelled out it's chest so that the saddle wasn't as tight as it could be. I put my foot in the stirrup and the saddle slid right around and dumped me in the dust and I swear I heard that pony laugh. There was another time that I decided to ride on my own but the pony had other ideas. We got as far as the road and it took of off for the neighbors yard and right under their pine trees. There was plenty of clearance for the pony but not for me. We ran around the yard twice and then headed straight home.

I also learned the realities of where the meat on the table came from. I couldn't eat chicken for several years. We had a feed lot for the cows that we planned to butcher and learned not to get attached to them. The time came when it was decided to butcher the bull, Gordy. Now Gordy was a very tame bull and more like a pet. He was loaded onto the trailer and Dad took him to the butcher. He came back and filled the freezer. We made it clear that we wouldn't be eating Gordy. So Dad loaded the meat back into the truck and went back to town and traded Gordy for someone else's meat. I suspect that Dad merely drove around or maybe stopped into the feed store to have a good laugh with the guys but we were appeased. There was another time that for what ever reason Dad brought the hogs that had been killed back from the butcher uncut. I remember there being lots of people there to help and we cut them ourselves and I got the job of helping to mix up the sausage and then pack it into casings. No part went to waste but I refused to even try the chitlins, feet or brains that others thought a treat.

Another chore I had was to milk the one Jersey cow we had. Not a fun job by any means. I swear that cow hated me and she could kick! I did love the fresh warm milk. I learned to make butter in a crock with an electric churn.

I learned so much in such a short period of time. I went back to being a city girl. I've lived in ten different homes as an adult and while some of them had nice landscaping I never had any real desire to garden until I moved here. My children are all on there own so I have plenty of time. We ended up here at a very stressful point in our marraige. Gardening has become therapeutic for me and knowing that I'll have the garden to play in helps me get through the very long winters. Up until now I've grown only flowers but today we'll plant a vegetable bed. My grandchildren will always think of me as a gardener and I hope I can pass on some of the things that I learned on the farm to them.

This was written for the 73rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, The Good Earth. I'm looking forward to hosting this edition right here at Apple's Tree.
Thank you to footnote Maven for the wonderful poster!


tipper said...

Loved this peek into your past. And I like thinking of you being down here in NC enjoying all that farm life too!

Jasia said...

Farm life is fascinating to me. I suppose because I have no experience with it. I really enjoyed your memories of life on a farm from a city girl's perspective. I'll bet you learned a lot.

I think of farm life as the "back stage" to our clean, efficient lives. We go to the grocery store and buy our meat and produce without a thought to all that goes on behind the scenes before it gets to the grocery store. Your article is a good reminder of that. Thanks for sharing!

(I do envy you having that pony and horse to ride!)