Not a gentleman farmer

By Joe Rector

Since people have been stuck at home during this pandemic, they’ve increased the number of photos of their garden plants. Everything from iris to dandelions to tomato plants have appeared on Facebook. A new group of “gentlemen” and “gentlewoman” farmers has arisen. Don’t count on me to be one of them.

I am not a vegetable gardener. A couple of years ago, I did put some tomato plants out, just to see if they would grow. Other than that, tilling the soil, planting seeds, and reaping the bounty has never been a favorite activity for me. When we were kids, our parents put out huge gardens. The entire back lot was plowed and filled with all sorts of things: string beans, potatoes, corn, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and bunch beans. We even had rows of strawberries.

Jim and I had our jobs for the garden. We were to go between rows and pull weeds. By the middle of the summer, the ground was as dry as a desert and as hard as concrete. We’d tug on the unwanted plants, and if we didn’t get the roots out, Daddy would fuss. Instead of playing ball or riding bikes, we fried under the summer sun and “pulled weeds.”

After beans were picked, we sat in the shade and broke them. Mother reminded us to get all the strings off, and we worked until our fingers were sore. She also cut corn from the cob, and one of us had to carry husks and cobs to the back of the yard for disposal. We swatted yellow jackets and bees that wanted some of the juices from the scraps.

Hearing the neighborhood rooster crow now reminds me of Daddy’s decision to raise chickens. A building at the back of the yard was in place and he and Papaw Balch strung fence to keep chickens in and other critters out. As best I remember, 100 chickens moved in, and the “nasty” began.

Oh sure, Mother gathered eggs every day. However, the area was filled with poop, and the Banty roosters attacked anyone who dared enter their turf. I remember running from the little devils and being pecked enough times to be scared to death of them. The chicken house had a layer of dried stuff on the floor that had to be scraped, and doing so filled the air was with dust, feathers, and an ammonia smell that choked anyone who was sent there to clean up the place.

Slowly, the chicken population thinned. Each Sunday, Daddy walked to the coop and chose a hen. He’d take it to the side yard and wring its neck, and, after it ran around headless for a while, he’d hang it on the clothesline so the blood drained. We ran to the field where the head had been thrown and gawk at the look on its face.

We even had a couple of calves in the back yard a few years later. An electric fence was erected, and the two animals grazed on grass, as well as feed and hay. We boys grew attached to the calves, something that should never happen. One day we came home, and they were gone. Daddy told us he traded them for their weight in meat. The freezer was stocked full of roast and hamburger, and even a few steaks. Little did we know that our meals were, in fact, the two calves we liked so much.

No, I’m not about to set out a garden or raise half a dozen chickens. Some might think it’s cute, but I still have less than fond memories of those things. Playing in a garden is much different from depending upon one to feed a family. I’ll just say prayers of thanks over foods that grace our table and which have come from farmers’ markets or grocery stores. My energies will be directed to other activities.

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