“All through the year on a family farm there are enchanting tokens of weather, bird, insect, fruit, livestock, flower, tree, beauty and human love. Sometimes, in fact, the beauty of earth is almost too much to bear. January fields have sometimes the look of an old green rug that is faded to greenish brown and bare in spots … all the same, even with that threadbare look the fields when wet with a light January rain have a clean-swept, comforting look, however shabby. All you really need to do, at any time of year, is to take time to look at it to realize how beautiful is an untroubled piece of earth.”
— Rachel Peden, The Land, The People 1966
In the past couple of weeks, I have had the good fortune to sit and chat with some good people about how farm life and the land itself molds us in to who we are.
A wonderful and interesting gentleman named Dallas told me that he grew up with a big and boisterous bunch of brothers on a farm in Virginia back in the 1930s and ’40s. What they learned as boys molded each of them in to hard-working men who led successful lives.
“What I guess we learned way back then is that if you didn’t grow it or hunt it or catch it, you didn’t eat. And that made you appreciate what you had. We’ve lost that basic understanding in this country somewhere along the way.”
Timing was good in his lifetime, Dallas acknowledged, saying that the 1950s was a good time to be starting out, building his own family.
“I was never without a job. I worked hard, and even though things happened that I couldn’t change or control, like a plant shutting down, I didn’t sit around and cry about it. I got out there and found myself another job and kept right on working hard.”
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he said, he and his wife both worked hard.
“Those were good years, really good years. We worked hard, but we were smart, and we got ahead. I know I’ve been a really lucky man.”
Dallas and his wife were saying their good-byes to Ohio friends and family, as they head to Florida each year after the holidays.
“And you know what? I know we’re even lucky to be able to do that!” he said with a smile.
He speaks lovingly of his wife, telling me that she still puts out a garden, adding, “Nothing tastes as good as something you’ve grown yourself.”
The simple gratitude touched me, and it struck me this, too, is one thing often seen in folks who have deep country roots. Because nothing initially in life came easy, there is appreciation for so much all along the journey.
The very next day, I sat and talked with a man named Jim while we both waited our turn in a busy office. He mentioned having earlier in the day buried his wife’s beloved old horse.
“I can live without him, but I’m not sure that she can.”
We talked about how animals share our lives and keep us going, the work involved never really seeming like work. Jim had grown up in a small rural town, but spent every chance he got helping on his grandparents’ dairy farm, often spending entire summers there.
“If it wouldn’t have hurt my mom’s feelings so bad, I would have loved to have moved in with my grandparents. There was nothing like working hard and then enjoying the fresh milk, fresh eggs, even helping on butchering day. Somehow that food always tasted so much better when you felt you had a hand in getting it to the table!”
So, when Jim grew up and married a farm girl, they both agreed they were going to save every penny in hopes of one day having at least a small farm of their own.
“We only have about 12 acres, but it is the most beautiful 12 acres to us in the whole world.”
I knew exactly what he meant. What a different society we would have today if everyone had a chunk of land under their feet, if it is land that they had longed for, worked toward, labored on, learned to love and appreciate.