It is hard to make it today if you are a small farmer. To succeed, you have to be a big-time farmer. Big acreage, big equipment and big production. That is a big contrast to the past when there were countless farms of a few hundred acres — where a family could make enough money on a cash crop like cotton to feed themselves, pay the bills and maybe have enough left over to buy a luxury item like a used car.
That is my heritage and I am proud of it. I will have to admit that back then I was always thinking how nice it would be to get off the farm. It was hot and the sun made you sweat. However, the sun was energizing and fulfilling and a cool breeze was more appreciated than central air is today.
There was always a garden except in the dead of winter, but that is when we could rob the sweet potato hill for the greatest of treats. A baked sweet potato coming out of the oven, steaming with an inviting aroma that singed your nostrils with an anticipation that was almost better than the satisfying of the taste buds when you slit the tuberous vegetable and wedged butter inside. When you are hungry in winter, nothing is better than a buttered sweet potato. Just like a hot dog smeared with ketchup is summer’s most satisfying treat.
A farm is where a lazy man is ostracized quicker than a barefoot golfer at the country club. Farmers tell the time by the sun. When the sun shows its face, the farmer has been at it for a couple of hours. One of the best books Jimmy Carter ever wrote was “An Hour Before Daylight.” Farm houses are stirring in the dark most days of the year. It took an hour to get ready for the fields. When daylight came, you were already hard at work.
Farmers are lean and industrious. In addition to tending to the cash crop that allows for survival, there are the chores — daily and seasonally. There are cows to be milked, hogs to slop and stove wood to cut. Feed the mules, feed the chickens and don’t forget the old hound dog. Give him a bone. Make his day. Like the arrival of the Dublin Courier Herald, even a day late, made yours.
Reading the Bible was an exercise expected, but a boy cannot live by Bible verses alone. Along with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there has to be box scores of the Red Sox games to enlighten him. Ezekiel might have made the wheel, but could he hit .400 like Ted Williams? Joshua might have made the walls fall at Jericho, but could he play center field like Joe DiMaggio? Was it really a sin to listen to a Big League game on Sunday?
The seasons were so much fun except for picking cotton in 90-degree heat. The spring was a time to plant, the summer a time to grow, the fall a time to harvest. We shelled peas and butterbeans on the back porch, gossiped and listened to country music.
We put up for the winter. We cut wood every day. If you cooked on a wood-burning stove, an ample woodpile was one of the most important images on the premises. A cross-cut saw and an axe were as important as the double-barrel shotgun and the .22 rifle, which brought squirrel and rabbit to the supper table. We listened to the whippoorwill, not sirens. We ate vegetables. There was nothing fast about our food.
The coming of electricity in the ‘50s was as appreciated as a deluxe computer in a later day. The weak bulb in the drop cord that hung from the ceiling meant you could read after the sun went down. A boy was wise not to complain. Increase the wattage and you increased the light bill. Pennies were important. Frugality was a staple of life where everybody pitched in and everybody made do. We didn’t have a lot, but everybody was harmonious and healthy, which leads me to wonder whether lifestyle and easy living have anything to do with the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic.
Makes me think sometimes that the good life ain’t too healthy.
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.