Growing up on a dairy farm in rural Southwest Missouri was a great experience. Could I go meet my friends at the shopping mall? Could I go to a movie at the drop of a hat? Did I get pizza or some other fast food several times a week? Did my family make lots of money so I could wear the most fashionable clothes? Did my family take week-long vacations? The answer to all of those questions is “no”. Small dairy farmers don’t get rich and the cows have to be milked twice a day every day. Did I ever feel underprivileged or disadvantaged because I lived an hour away from the nearest city? Never! I had the best life I could want. Here’s a few of the things I got to do.
The farm I grew up on had seven different ponds. My brothers and I named them the Moss pond, Chigger pond, Woods pond, Fence pond, New pond, Stacy pond, and Hog pond. Some of these ponds were little more than water holes. The Chigger , Moss, and Stacy pond were major fishing spots where my brothers and I caught uncountable bluegill and bass that supplied many a meal. Hours were spent digging worms, fishing, and cleaning fish.
There was the big bass that my brother caught that flopped out of his hands and back into the pond. There was the running back and forth to the hay barn 1/4 mile away one Memorial Day because of the rain showers. There was taking off your shoes, rolling up your pants and wading into the pond to unhook a favored crappie jig from a tree limb. There was the snapping turtle that tried to eat the fish off of the stringer. (A stringer is a line that you hook your caught fish on to keep them captured and alive in the water.)
We often rode in a small wagon behind the tractor to get to the ponds. My older brother would drive the tractor while my twin brother and I stood in the wagon; or should I say tried to stand in the wagon. This wagon had little to no springs and we would try to stay standing as it bumped up and down over the rough pastures. This was better than trying to sit in the wagon as it jarred your behind off.
There was walking through our patch of woods shooting our BB guns at whatever targets we could come up with. We also would find small dead trees and try to push them over to see how they fell. We would take long ropes of grape vines and twist and roll them into Christmas wreaths. We would hunt Morel mushrooms in the spring that my mom would fry up . DELICIOUS! We could watch the squirrels run and climb and chatter at us as we loaded the fire wood my Dad cut with his chainsaw. There was the mouse that ran up the inside of my brothers pants leg and the resultant screaming!
There was walking up and down the shallow little creek chasing minnows, small perch, and crawdads. We would put leaves and sticks in the creek and race our floats down the creek. We would build dams of little rocks and mud and try to create little pockets of water before the force of the water washed the rocks away.
There was the hard work with my brothers and Dad hauling hay and the huge sense of accomplishment looking at the barns full of hay bales. One of my brothers would drive the tractor, one of us would “buck” bales, and one would stack the bales on the wagon. Bucking bales was picking up the bales off the ground and throwing them up onto the wagon. Sometimes this meant throwing 50 pound bales seven to ten feet in the air to get them on the top of the other bales on the wagon. We would ride on top of the load of hay 20 feet above the ground as the wagon swayed and bounced its way to the barn. Then we had to unstack the load of hay, throw the bales into the barn, and restack them up to 20 bales high.
There was the time the wagon axle broke and the hay fell off along with the brothers on top. There were the multiple times I would pick a hay bale up by the twine strings holding it together and try to throw it. That is when the strings would break. This ended with hay flying in a 15 foot arc and me putting all my weight into the throw only to unexpectedly have the bale explode and end up throwing myself into the ground. There was the most delicious taste ever; water from the gallon water thermos sliding down a parched,dry throat. There was the scratchy feel of lespedesa hay leaves cascading down the back of my shirt. (Lespedeza has very small leaves so it was a very “dirty” hay. Especially when bucking bales into the wind.) There was the feeling of soaked wet socks and feet when hauling hay all night long for three cents a bale. The dew would form at about 04:00 in the morning and walking in the field was like wading in a creek. There was the very last time I saw a jack rabbit in Southwest Missouri while hauling hay in the summer of about 1974. (Coyotes moved into the area and the jack rabbits disappeared never to return.) There was the one family we would haul hay for who felt obligated to feed us lunch at noon time. I still remember the taste of those fresh garden peas and fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.
There was the time my brothers and I had to pull calf out of a cement cistern off of the side of the House pond. The time my twin brother tried to stop a five hundred pound calf and got run over for his trouble. The time the steers got out and I ran half a mile through the woods jumping about four barbed wire fences trying to get in front of them.The running through the cow lot outside the milk barn and having one barn boot come off. The problem with that is that you can’t stop in time so you take at least one step without the benefit of the boot on your foot. Now, your sock foot has gone eight inches deep in the mud, cow urine, and manure of the middle of the cow lot. Do you put that foot back in the boot? Do you walk out of the middle of the lot without the boot? No good answers exist to that question.
I could go on and on. I probably will relate more stories at various times and posts. The point of the story is that if I could go back and trade that life for another, I would do the same thing all rover again. There were bad times, too, but not worth talking about. I can only wish that my grandchildren can have the same experiences I had. Bucking bales has almost disappeared from Southwest Missouri because almost everyone uses big round bales. Jack rabbits have left the country. The creek I played in has become mostly a dry ditch due to the lowering water table. Most of those farm ponds have gradually filled in so the fish are mostly gone. “The times, they are a-changin’.” The times have been a-changing for the last 200 years. I just relish the experiences I had growing up as a farm kid.