A recent statistic floating around reads like this: the average person is three generations removed from agriculture. That may not surprise you, but I still live on a farm and can trace agriculture back for generations on my side of the family and on my husband’s. So when I share stories on my blog about farming and my childhood on the farm, I am always surprised at how many people read and comment on the things I take for granted. I consider myself lucky to have been raised in the country, living what some would call a simple life.
Growing up on a farm prepares you for life. Not that other environments don’t, but like every niche in the world, a farming background is unique. From an early age, I was surrounded by hard physical work. On farms that produce livestock, there is no day off. Saturday and Sunday are much like the other five days of the week. Get up early. Feed and care for the livestock. Milk the cows. Clean out the pens.
Some would call that the downside. Maybe, but we didn’t know there was any other way to live. Were there upsides? You bet. I got to see both of my parents every day of the week. We spent a lot of time together and got to know each other well. My parents, like many parents, were both working most of the time, but we were all there together.
One of my favorite “togetherness” memories was riding to town in an old straight truck to pick up feed for the livestock and groceries for our family. It was a family affair. Mom would take in several dozen eggs and barter with the local grocer in exchange for the things we didn’t produce on the farm. Dad would take my brother and I across the street to pick up burlap bags full of livestock feed. If times were good and there was a bit of extra change in Dad’s pocket, we would get a fudgesicle or a bottle of soda from the refrigerator inside the feed mill office. We learned not to ask Dad for it. We knew it was not always an option. We knew that if there was any way Dad could afford a small treat for us…. it would happen. From there grew patience and understanding. Oh, and the refrigerator and snacks? It was on an honor system. Take what you wanted and leave the correct change in a container. From that we learned honesty and trust.
We were surrounded by the facts of life. We experienced birth and death as children and no one thought to shield us from it. They were life lessons, learned from first hand experience. A sow’s litter of pigs is born but not all of the piglets survive. A baby lamb whose mother died giving birth was bottle fed but did not survive. When I was 5 years old, I received a baby duckling as an Easter surprise. Ducker followed me everywhere. He swam in my wading pool in the summer. He sat by the wooden swing while I soared through the air. Then one night, Ducker was gone. A few feathers remained from an attack by a fox or raccoon. I cried but I accepted.
Like many families in the 50’s and 60’s, we struggled economically. But we always had a home and food on the table. Our home wasn’t fancy and our furniture wasn’t new. I didn’t always have a new Easter dress or the latest toy for Christmas. But I had love and security. I learned to make do. I learned to respect others whether they had more or less than I did. I learned not to judge others but to accept them as they were.
Don’t get me wrong. We were certainly not deprived. I took music lessons and swimming lessons. When transistor radios were the rage, I got one for Christmas just like everyone else. But we understood where it came from. We knew that it was not purchased on a whim, but after much careful planning and penny pinching. My friends, who lived in town, learned some of the same lessons.
Can you learn these life lessons in any environment? Of course. I just feel especially lucky to have learned them they way I did.