November 28, 2021
Those Exasperating Chores of Childhood
Growing up on a farm was often exasperating for me. My dad never gave me a vote on the chores assigned to me. He told me what to do and I did it. But it was not fun. It was usually hard work, often dirty work. Being the oldest child, I worked alone. Three sisters had their own chores and my only brother was eleven years younger than me.
Dad was a cattleman. Some years we fed and cared for a hundred cows, their calves and four or five bulls. Cows had to be fed every day in the winter, no matter how bad the weather. If it was 25 degrees outside, and raining, and the wind blowing like it had come down from Canada, you fed the cattle.
Dad would say, “Get your rubber boots on, son; wrap up and come on.” To the barn, through the mud, we would go and load bales of hay on the pickup. He drove the truck. I was too young, though he let me start driving (on the farm) when I was about ten. Before that, when we got to the right place in the pasture, I got on the back of the truck. As Dad drove slowly, I cut the strings on the hay bales so the bales would come apart as I pushed them off onto the ground. The cows came running as Dad banged on the door of the truck and began calling the cows with a voice that could be heard for miles around.
We fed the cattle silage in the winter. Silage was usually a mixture of millet and corn which Dad grew on our farm. He built a huge silo where the silage was stored. It was hard work getting the silage out of the silo and into the troughs where the cattle would eat it. If it was bitter cold, and raining, and the mud around the silo was a foot deep, you got your boots on and you fed the cattle.
Dad has two milk cows. By the time I was six years old I was milking those two cows. Dad never taught me how to milk a cow. He just gave me a bucket and told me to milk the cows. If it was bitter cold in the dead of winter, I milked the cows. Morning and night. For a while there was no light in the barn. A kerosine lantern helped out. On a cold night you understood the raw side of farm life when the cow’s tail, filled with cockleburs, slaps your cheek while you milking with both hands. When you sit the pale of milk on the table in the house, you hope Dad does not say with a frown, “That looks like Blue John to me.”
Dad tried raising sheep but soon wearied of that for reasons I don’t recall. But he always had hogs, and hogs stink. The stench of hogs is about as bad a smell as you can find on a farm. If it was storming outside, with lightning brightening up the sky, you got your boots on and slopped the hogs. You could tolerate the mud and the weather because you knew that before long that slop would turn into bacon and sausage.
Chickens? Yeah, we had lots of chickens. And our hens did not lay their eggs in those cute with egg cartons. They laid them in their nest in the chicken house. And sometimes when you were gathering eggs, you were alarmed to find that a snake had found the eggs before you did. But you chased the snake away and gathered the eggs. Chickens provide chicken houses with a steady supply of chicken manure. And though the manure has to be removed, it is good fertilizer for Dad’s huge vegetable garden. You breathe a lot of foul-smelling dust when you clean chicken houses, but you get your boots on and clean the chicken house.
Yes, farm life was often exasperating for me as a child. I complained about all those frustrating chores and sometimes wished I lived in town, without hogs and cows and chickens and mud. But at last, thank God, I realized how blessed I was to be raised on a farm by a father who never let me vote for an easier life. He was teaching me that successful living requires hard work and perseverance. If they had known each other, my Dad and Coach Vince Lombardi would have been good friends. Dad taught me what Lombardi taught the boys who played on the gridiron for him – that life is like football. It requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.
So, if these days your life requires hard work, dirty work, frustrating work, day in and day out, get your boots on, do what has to be done and persevere, no matter how deep the mud or how bad the weather. Sooner or later, you will rejoice to see that eventually perseverance pays the dividends that make life worth living. + + +