The curiosity of a child on the farm

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Little girl

“We were happy to be parents and grateful to be farming, doing the best we could. I would lay awake nights thinking how to keep everybody safe, though, and that’s the truth.”

My Dad said this to me when my own children were quite little, a sentiment I had felt in my heart all along.

Only 21 when he became a father, he was born to the role. His life as a farmer gave him the chance to be fully present in our lives, and we remain blessed all these years later because of it.

We loved helping around the grain bins, though we were given safety lectures and barred from entering any of the bins. Ever. I was still young when allowed to take moisture readings and write each one down, feeling like a pretty important cog in the wheel.

Long before there were grain bins, though, I have a memory of “helping” at the silos.

Dad was bringing loads of silage to the dairy barn, where his Grandpa Charlie Myers was helping fill silo. I was to stay in a safe spot chosen by Dad. I knew not to move when tractors or trucks were in motion.

I didn’t want to be sent to the house when such big things were happening.

The old Farmall M that Dad had purchased from Great Grandpa Charlie at his retirement farm sale was being used to power the silo-filling.

I was fascinated by the big round, hollow “echo maker” on the side of the tractor that I fancied to be my toy steering wheel.

I had never seen that thing with a big old belt around it, and since all the tractors were stopped, I decided it was a good time to get a closer look.

Grandpa Charlie was busy making sure the silage was moving along as it should. I got closer and closer to the side of that red tractor. I leaned in, raised my arms up high and could feel some air moving my duck fluff hair around on my head.

I thought it was such a fascinating new thing I could tell my sisters when they got home from school.

Suddenly, I was grabbed up off the ground and held tight. The two men I loved most in the whole world seemed to be angry and upset with me. Dad held me tight, carrying me back to my playing spot.

He took off his hat, looking up at the sky for a long time, though I sure couldn’t see any reason why. He then gathered up my toy shovel and bucket, set me in the pickup truck and drove me to the house in silence.

He said a few words to my mother, speaking in a hushed tone. I peeked at the spanking paddle that hung on the kitchen wall as fair warning of why we must always listen. I feared I might soon get to see it up close.

When we gathered around the kitchen table for lunch, Grandpa Charlie gave me a big hug as if he hadn’t already seen me all morning. He uncharacteristically didn’t say a single word while we ate.

After the evening milking, as we all sat down for supper, I couldn’t wait another minute and began telling my sisters the Farmall M breezy-hair story.

Dad pushed his plate away, folded his arms tight, and began the talk. The Farmall M, he said, was as dangerous as it could possibly be, doing its job at the silos.

What I thought of as my big, harmless toy steering wheel on the side of that tractor was a weapon with a belt going fast enough to hurt me way worse than Dad ever wanted to think about.

I started to cry, certain Grandpa Charlie, Mom, my sisters and God and everybody was going to see me get my first paddling.

Instead, through some great stroke of unexplained luck, I got to go sit with Dad in his easy chair and listen to our new Patsy Cline record while everybody else did dishes.

Dad dried my tears with his red handkerchief. Somewhere in between Walkin’ After Midnight and Falling To Pieces, Dad asked me to promise I would never, ever, go anywhere close to a running tractor without permission.

I noticed his eyes seemed kind of watery when I made my promise and we shook on it.

All these years later, the lovely contralto voice of Patsy Cline has the power to pick me up, carry me across time, and set me down on that old easy chair, my dinky little arm around my Daddy’s neck.

We are home, forever safe.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for the lovely story, as a young father of even younger children you can never be to careful when protecting the next generation

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