The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

June 28, 2014

Farm kids learn their places early

From The Back Porch column

— The familiar aroma wafted to my nostrils. I breathed deeply — as deeply as I could while restrained by a seat belt and my slightly ample midsection. “If only they could bottle that.”

It was the smell of curing hay. I looked outside the passenger side window to see fluffy windrows packed around a hayfield.

On a farm, you know your status by three indicators: what you do in the hayfield, what you do in the garden and where you sit in the truck.

I was in the hayfield on my fifth birthday and for a lot of birthdays after that. I was born during the time of the year when farmers put up their first cutting.

I yearned for the day when I could stack the wagon and, better yet, ride it to the barn. But I had to start by piling the bales. I didn’t have the heart for it, but Daddy said it was important work. I think he wanted me out of the way so I didn’t get run over. Most times, he would finish baling while the rest of us started loading the wagons.

So I figured dragging bales into piles was my way to get into the business. The Bible says if we are faithful in little things, God will give us big things to do. Over the years, I graduated to stacking on the wagon. There is an art to it. Those who don’t master the art lose the load in the road.

And then I got to ride on top of the hay wagon. We didn’t have any skyscrapers in Greenville or Forest Hill, so it was the best view of the world I ever had as a kid. As far as I was concerned, it was the best part of the world to view, atop a wagon or not.

I try to grow a few vegetables each year since I have my own house and yard. Mostly, it’s an exercise in frustration, but it keeps me out of jail. Every time I put those seeds in the ground, I remember how a young person properly grows in the garden.

Dragging the chain was the first job a young’un took on. Daddy or Mommy would drop 10-10-10 fertilizer in the row and direct us to drag the chain through it to work the fertilizer into the ground. I can still feel that soft, cool, damp earth under my bare feet and smell the slight oily aroma on the chain as I dragged it.

The next job was pulling weeds. I hated that. It looked a lot more glamorous to wield the hoe. I had trouble telling the difference between the weeds and the vegetables; I usually pulled the wrong one. Really. I didn’t do it on purpose.

And then came my turn with the hoe. I had made it to the big time. I wrapped my hands around that wooden handle and took off down the row with a vengeance. From that side of the operation, hoeing quickly lost its luster. So Mom and Dad weren’t having that much fun, after all.

If one had doubts about where he or she stood on the farm, the pickup clearly told the tale. When all five of us went along, we kids jumped into the back and let Mom and Dad have the cab. Otherwise, the youngest rode the hump.

All trucks were stick shifts then. The gears were right over where the drive shaft came down the middle of the cab. You didn’t have anywhere to put your feet because Daddy, with his size 12s, needed every square inch he could get to drive, and you were in a cramp if you put them on the passenger side. Sometimes, out of desperation, I’d put one on each side for a while until Daddy complained.

Our old farm trucks were crotchety, so Daddy had to shift hard to change gears. Many times I thought he’d leave a bruise when he jerked the stick and slammed his fist into my inner thigh.

When I got to move to the passenger side, brother Jeff had married and left home. Again, the reality wasn’t as much fun as the fantasy. However, since Mom was the shortest of the three of us, Daddy and I conned her into riding the hump. She didn’t mind sitting that close to Daddy.

— Young is a freelance columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com.

© 2014 by Nerissa Young

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