If you know me well, you know that I grew up on a small family dairy farm in Pennsylvania. I think about the farm often, almost daily. In the past 3 years I’ve taken lots of photos every time I go back home, to try to freeze moments in time, so that I can look back. I’m sharing some here, and some of my experience.
There are some aspects of my childhood on the farm that I didn’t understand the significance of, until now.
Mealtimes, for instance. How healthy it was for me as a kid, to sit down at the table with my family 3 times a day, and discuss the trivial things that made up our day; laugh, joke, and as we got older, discuss more serious things. Discussions around the dinner table turned to spiritual things almost every day, thanks to my Dad, who often lead the conversation and finished his food last, and his deep relationship with God. How beneficial it was for me in my formative years to have that conversation around the table with my parents and my siblings.
I didn’t realize that seeing my Dad every day, milking cows and doing other farm work with him was different than the experience of most kids my age. The thought that some people only saw their dad in the evenings when he came home from work never crossed my mind.
The way my Dad lived his life made a deep impression on me. He was so consistent in his work, and we knew that he loved the farm. He passed that love down to us. I and my siblings spent hours when we were kids, riding with him in the tractor as he did field work. He worked out life’s problems on the tractor, he said, and we would inevitably fall asleep in the cab, because the hum of the tractor was mesmerizing. I will never forget the smell of that tractor, and I could still pick out each of the machines by the sound. (Let me say here that I realize that many kids don’t have the privilege of spending so much time with their parents, and that is no one’s fault. It’s the society we live in; a father’s work is, most times, away from home. If I have children, that will be their experience. It’s a sad thing though, I think. Don’t you? )
And then the farm work. To get up early every day, summer and winter, go out and milk and feed the cows, take care of the calves, and then do it all again in the evening. It was so normal, not hard because the job was shared by all of us, and most of the time (once I got out of bed and out to the barn), the work was fun and refreshing. When I got older and got a job, getting up early for work was never an issue for me, and working hard without complaint was normal. I didn’t realized then that those disciplines had already been taught to me, on the farm.
It gave me a love for the land. Raising animals. Growing things. The seasons. Planting season and that smell of plowed dirt was always invigorating and we marked the summer by how tall the corn was. (Remember the phrase “knee high by 4th of July?” 🙂 The smell of fresh cut hay is still my favorite smell of all time. Summer days, as kids, we spent almost entirely outside, barefoot. We would sleep outside some nights on our trampoline, (did other kids do this??) and look at the stars. I remember the September evening, the night before my wedding and my move to Virginia, I went down to our pond and just lay in the grass looking up at the stars. I knew I would be leaving this place and I was trying to absorb it all, one last time. Do I sound sentimental here? I am a little I guess.
My dad sold the cows last summer, which was a huge adjustment for everyone, even for me who now lives states away. I always imagined that the farm would always be there….that I could give my future family a chance to go an experience it, even if it was just to visit and work for a short time. But the small family farms are shutting down, one at a time. When 50 years ago everyone grew up on a farm, (the farm, the backbone of America and the American family) it’s become a rarity now. That lifestyle that is so rich in experiences and values, is now foreign to many people.
I’m not trying to glorify my childhood, because it wasn’t perfect. But I want to commemorate it. I want to write a book about it someday, not because I ever wanted to be an author, but because the childhood that I and others experienced, should be remembered and valued.
I know there are others who shared in my experience, or one similar. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!