There are some things that get my attention, which I realize most people wouldn’t even hear in random conversation. I was standing in line at the store and overheard a woman say to her husband, “No, these gloves aren’t thick enough. Put them back. If I start working in the flower bed and end up getting dirty, I just won’t be able to stand it.”
Working in flowers is a dirty job? Really?
I felt the urge to roll my eyes, to speak up and tell her that until she’s worked with dairy cattle and feeder pigs, she has no idea what “getting dirty” really means.
I also realize that those who have farming experience will tell you that their definition of dirty jobs grows with every dose of fertilizer they encounter. The boundaries of what is acceptable out of necessity gets pushed to infinity.
It was necessary for my siblings and me to overcome that urge to want to avoid getting dirty from a very young age. We were raised with the mentality that you did whatev’er it took to get the job done.
There was always fresh soap and a hot shower waiting for you. Eventually. It might be a very long stretch of time until you got there.
Get over it
The basic mentality, from little on up, was “get over it.”
One of the worst of my dirty job memories involves a difficult labor of one of our best producers in the dairy herd. It was in the busy time of spring, and Dad was planting on one of the farms he rented a bit of a distance from home in order to pick up more productive acreage.
This left my sisters and me in charge of the evening milking. Before heading out to the far pasture to begin bringing the herd in for milking, I checked on Dottie in the maternity pen and realized she was in trouble. The front hooves of the calf were showing, so I tied the ropes around the them and asked my sister to help me.
Dottie had done this a few times before, and she was a champ — a big-boned beauty with a calm disposition. We pulled, she pushed. A very big calf was born, but with the calf came more than we’d bargained for.
My sister and I looked at each other, and I offered to go call Doc Smith while she tried to keep the uterine displacement from total contamination. After making the call, I came back in to take her place, because one of us had to get the herd in and start the milking.
We both were, you might say, a whole lot of dirty by the end of this particular day.
That was a tough one, but working with pigs was much worse. A group of feeder pigs can turn nasty on a dime, and if one of the bunch is injured even in the smallest way, the rest of the pack smells blood and wants to go in for the kill.
A tiny scratch can turn in to chaotic, pig-screaming madness. I appreciated, on those awful days, having our herding dog to help. I would go in to the pen with a stock cane and a small gate and try to ignore my horror at the sights and smells.
Bill, our English Shepherd, would part the sea of mayhem, pushing the hogs away from me so that I could get to the down and injured pig. I would nudge the beaten-up little guy in to a separate pen, or carry it out of the barn, whichever seemed necessary.
Doc Smith would once again be called. We were grateful Doc lived near us and was a friend as well as a highly respected veterinarian.
There was no time to think about how dirty a particular job would be. It needed to be done, and quickly. No whining allowed.
A private little pep-talk often took place before diving in to a job. The quicker started, the sooner it was done, and no mysterious leprechaun was going to swoop in and do it for you.
By the way, Dottie and the heifer calf survived and thrived. And to this day, I consider working in the flower beds one of the most enjoyable pastimes to be found. I’m still always grateful for soap and hot water at the end of the day.