The harvest is almost done. It’s that time of year.
I am walking with my wife along the edge of a cotton field that has been picked, its stalks cut and waiting to be tilled back into the soil. And I feel really good.
I am very fortunate to have grown in up in a time and place where I got a little taste of pre-modern life. My family spent a fair amount of time at both of my great-grand parents’ houses in
In the 1960s, it was just hillbilly territory. Now, it’s basically just more Dallas, Georgia Atlanta.
Both places had an old-fashion well where you cranked a bucket on a rope down into the hole, let the bucket fill up, then, cranked ‘er back up. A ladle hung on the well post for dipping and sipping that cool water you had just pulled up from the ground. As a young boy, I didn’t think of it as old-fashioned, I thought of it as being pretty cool.
Not everything there was pretty cool, however.
At both places, there was an outhouse, and we used them. Even as they got indoor plumbing, the kids (that meant me) still had to use the outhouse. Yes, there was a Sears & Roebuck catalog in there. Yes, you tore off pages to clean your business.
What I also remember about one of the outhouse was that yellow jackets tended to congregate around whatever deposits had been made. It might be useful to know that the back portion of the old outhouses were open – at least a foot or so off the ground – to allow them to be shoveled out from time to time. Any manner of critters had easy access.
I never had to shovel one out, but I did have to put my bare bottom and other associated parts onto a hole in a wooden plank that was situated about two feet above where some bees were buzzing. I saw that as a threat to my manhood. Or little boyhood. Whatever. It was always a bit unnerving.
One of my great-grandfathers had a chicken house. It was a single house, but he was raising chickens commercially, even if on a small scale. It was always fun when he got a fresh load of baby chicks in. We kids would go into the chicken house and play with them.
These days, going into a chicken house is almost a hazmat operation where you have to wear special gear and get hosed down with some cleaning solution. Looking back now, though, “I played with your foo-ood! I played wid-jo foo-ood!”
If I’m being honest, I have to admit I never got the hang of milking a cow. My great-grandmother tried to teach me a couple of times. I was afraid I was hurting the cow. With that little stream of snuff juice oozing from the corner of her mouth, I’m right certain hurting the cow as of no concern to Grandmama.
The point of this little waltz down memory lane is that I have some connection to the farm. At least occasionally, I was amongst the chicks, the cows, the pigs, the donkeys… and they all smelled better than that dang outhouse.
The very first summer job I had was hoeing nutgrass out of peanut fields. I spent another miserable summer working for an entomologist who had me collecting and counting stinkbug eggs from soybean plots.
My wife has even more exposure to the farm. She spent one summer cropping tobacco. That set her on a career path of “anything but that!” Her chosen career, though, wound up keeping her close to farms and farmers.
There are things you pick up from the farm - from the country - that never leave you. The smell of freshly-cut hay, the smell of freshly dug peanuts. They fill your senses so strongly that when you get the chance to experience them again, they bring you closer to earth, closer to the dirt that sustains you.
I love the city I live in, and my ‘farming’ experience now is limited to a lone tomato or pepper plant in a pot out on the deck. So walking with my wife on this sandy road, alongside this abandoned railroad track, past this cotton field, past the over-grown pond, then through the tall stands of pine trees, I feel something. I’m not really sure where it’s taking me back to, but it has a hold on me.
Feels like home.