When I was young and growing up on the farm, things were different. We worked hard and long in the fields. Our bus ride to school was an hour one way, giving us plenty of time to do homework. Playtime for us was wading in the creek or playing with our toy cars in the rocks near the ditch. We had an old bike, its banana seat long since had lost its padding. Its chain popped off at random. No chain meant no brakes. We’d push it up the hill next to the hog lot and ride it down, seeing who remained upright the longest.
When I was young and growing up on the farm, cow shit was no big deal. Our first dance learned was the ‘barnyard shuffle’. Dried piles were the best place to find worms, and we knew it. Baiting our hooks, we held the cane poles out over the water and watched our bobbers. Small little blue-gill and sunnies is about all we caught. Sometimes we would catch a catfish, thinking we’d snagged a log but it would keep coming, heavy on the line. If no adult was around, we’d toss them back ’cause we didn’t want the catfish’s heads to be nailed to the tree so they could be skinned.
When I was young and growing up on the farm, we had tobacco fields and potato fields and gardens full of beans and tomatoes and okra and peas. Hillsides covered in wild blackberry bushes. Once I went huckleberry picking along the top ridge of a mountain, the ground so steep we were standing on the sides of the trees to remain upright. Every few years we’d grow sugar cane down at the bottom where the creek turned and the ground was sandy. Most likely it was sorghum but we called it sugar cane nevertheless. Tall straight plants coated in ice as we cut them early in the mornings. Then out to some church that had a molasses business and we’d wait while they cooked it. Out’d come thick black sweet molasses, better than anything I’d ever tasted. We’d haul metal cans and glass jars of the stuff to the truck, the church keeping their share to sell later.
When I was young and growing up on the farm, treats were different. Sometimes after working hard in the fields, our reward was a bottle of coke from the store. Nectar to the gods it was, especially to us kids. Sometimes we could get a candy bar, sometimes a handful of Bazooka bubble gum. We got maybe one coke a week, most of the time less than that. Getting one meant a job well done. We’d ride over in the back of the truck or on the wagon behind the tractor. The fresh breeze cooling us off on the way and bringing us to earth on the way back. Hit a bump and we’d bounce a foot or more up and over, but that was half the fun.
When I was young and growing up on the farm, weather was different. We had to know what it was going to do next. The breeze would tell us, the smell in the air and the direction of the clouds told us too. We’d be out in the fields, the wide valley all around. We would smell the rain long before we saw it. A wall of water would be coming down the valley floor, a curtain of rain. We had to decide whether to wait it out or to head for the house, depending on how hot we were or how long we’d think it’d last. Soaked to the skin, we’d stand in Mamaw’s kitchen, smelling like wet dogs and drinking milk with our biscuits. One time the birds were nervous all day, flitting from one tree to another. A storm was coming. As it approached they disappeared altogether, just as the air turned green. Heavy rain, loud thunder and wind strong enough to be from God himself lasted for several hours. Then the birds were back, as if they had merely gone to a church business meeting.
When I was young and growing up on the farm, food was different. We knew where our meals came from. We had store-bought goods and we had homemade goods. We had fresh canned beans all winter long and the potato bin never seemed to go empty. We’d have pork or beef and try to not think of who it might be. We’d drink milk that just a few hours ago had been inside a cow. But the beans were soggy and the potatoes wrinkled and the meat was greasy even before being fried.
Now I am older and not much wiser and I have a twelve-pack of cokes in the fridge. My dinner is from the freezer, one of those one bowl meals, meat included. I haven’t a clue where it came from before that. I know the weather by turning on the television. Things are different now.
Originally published in Muscadine Lines online magazine Vol. 4, 2005.