“Hey! Mark your calendar for an all-day party Saturday,” I remember hearing my dad happily announce at the breakfast table one spring day. My ears perked up and I pictured cousins coming for an entire day of play. I could tell by my older sisters’ reaction that they weren’t nearly as excited as I was over this prospect.
Turns out, it was a rock pickin’ party, my older sister told me, and it wasn’t the kind of party most people would ever look forward to, so I might want to put my smiling excitement away for another day.
“Will our cousins be coming?” I asked, still hopeful.
“Not if they know what’s good for them,” she grumbled.
We put on our barn boots, gathered up gloves, and headed with dad to the round field, one of my favorite places on the big old farm.
The round field was the spot where we found the most arrowheads, and it had long been considered an old Indian settlement. Trees, a creek, and all sorts of interesting natural habitat gave this part of the farm a tranquil, set-away atmosphere. It was also slightly chilly.
Tromping through the field in search of stones to throw on the flat wagon found us with heavy boots in no time flat, as this field was blessed with rich top soil like no other and accumulated on our boots like rich clay.
Dad would lead the charge in gathering up the biggest rocks, encouraging us to go after what we could handle. We moved across that field and soon the wagon was heavy with field stone. The morning chill had been replaced with full sun, bringing sweat and stinging skin.
After lunch, we would be moving to the wilderness field, where Dad said he expected an even better crop of rock due to the swollen Town Run coursing through it. We jokingly said we were actually looking forward to the evening milking for a change, when we could put an end to a long day of heavy lifting.
Where do they all come from? To my way of thinking, Dad had been farming that land forever at that time, and I figured he’d already done this many times over since he had planted corn, wheat and alfalfa in those fields for as long as I could remember. Dad just smiled and said, “This is one crop a farmer can always count on!”
Years later, two of my sisters and I, along with our kids, once again received an invitation to a rock picking party. This time, the cousins were our children, and it really was a fun and very memorable day. The older boys would clamor for the biggest rocks and puzzle over how to go about landing some enormous ones.
We moved across those fields like a band of gypsies, colorful bandanas, gloves, hats and all. There was plenty to drink and the snacks kept everyone going, and this time around we knew to use sunblock for our winter-white skin.
My dad sat down at the end of that day and wrote out notes and envelopes in which he tucked some cash for each of the grandchildren who helped. Cort, who was still pretty small potatoes, saved that envelope and the money in it. He was proud of the money he had earned through a long day of hard physical work, with fun and memories thrown in for the keeping.
When I think back on that day, it was Dad’s joy at seeing his daughters and grandkids out working in those fields together that stands out to me.
That man loved his land and lived for his family, and his legacy remains steadfast in all that he taught us: work hard, and know the joy of accomplishment.
There is, quite simply, nothing else quite so great and uncomplicated as that.