Between two horses, two dogs, and a very suspicious cat, it feels like all I’ve accomplished this week has been cleaning up crap and mending fences. I do love my fantasy farmhand land archetype and welcome it whenever I get the chance but this past week it has been just a little too realistic. My fantasy is now tainted with the fear of phone calls and voices saying “Your dog is in my yard.” What I need is a ranch with miles and miles of fenced acreage so if I were to look out my window and not see my dogs I wouldn’t worry that they are in someone’s yard digging holes, doing their “business,” and getting me in trouble with the homeowners association.
Why do I like this farmhand archetype anyway? What makes this role I’m so inclined to portray important to me, especially when it can be such a pain in the A double S at times?
When I was about eight or so, my daddy bought his first farm. It was about 40 acres just off Rocky River in Union County and he started raising beef cattle as a “hobby”–his own real farmhand-land. Right off the bat, there was a whole lot of work to do; and even as a young little dogie, I realized Daddy’s venture was going to be a family affair. There was always a reason to go across the river to the farm: Cows to feed, fences to mend, hay to stack and unstack, and newborn calves to count. But I never really minded the work because I was with my Daddy.
Eventually, Daddy bought another farm on Long Creek in Stanly County and started rotating the herd between two locations. This was no simple task; but the upside for me was that it became outright necessary that I learn to drive the tractor and the truck. I started out in Daddy’s 1964 VW bug. Sometimes Daddy would stack bales of hay on the front bumper and I’d drive out to where the cows were. By the time I was twelve, I could drive Daddy’s 1947 International farm truck with a double clutch and push button starter and a John Deer tractor.
My Daddy was never known to cuss; and the only times I ever heard a foul word come out of his mouth when I was growing up was at the farm. Three times, in particular, stand out in my memory and all have to do with my driving: Once I scraped the old truck on the gate post; Daddy wasn’t mad about the truck but the gate post was another matter. Then once while loading up cows to move to another pasture, I was backing the truck up to the loading chute and slammed into a support post on the 100 year-old barn. Daddy ran out to the driver’s side of the truck and had that look on his face. I tried to tell him I didn’t see “it” but he replied, “Good god a’mighty, you mean to tell me that you couldn’t see a *cuss* barn?”
But the last incident is the one that sticks out the sharpest in my recollection: Daddy was alone at the farm and got the tractor stuck in a big mudhole at the bottom of a hill. Of course, there were no cell phones in the early 1970s, and Daddy wasn’t too happy about having to drive back into town to get me and the truck. Even before we made it back to the farm, I could tell that it was not going to be a pleasant experience.
Daddy took a monster-sized logging chain out of the back of the truck and hooked it up to the tractor, then both he and I cranked our vehicles. It was pretty loud–the truck engine struggling and whining in low gear and the tractor spewing and spatting its own expletives. To this day, I still believe Daddy put on the tractor brakes before he hollered for me to stop; but at any rate, I kept going up the hill until there was a great jerk backwards and the ugly cracking sound of a heavy log chain hitting the rear end of the truck. Then, I stopped.
Thank goodness for the noise of the truck and the tractor because when I looked out the rear window, Daddy was cussin’ up a storm. The rain cap on top of the tractor exhaust pipe bounced up and down with his facial expressions. I had a pretty good idea of what he was saying and was glad I couldn’t hear it. If there was ever a time that my Daddy could have sold the farm and never looked back, it would probably have been that day.
I have put up a new dog fence in the back yard; and I did it all by myself. My friend Edie fussed because I didn’t ask for help; but honestly, I was not fit to be around. There wasn’t enough noise to drown out my own cussin’. Afterwards, I felt kind of good about mending fences despite my spending an entire afternoon wrapped up in aluminum wire that is bound to break at some point in the future; probably sooner than I’ll be ready for. At least the day reminded me of the old farm and made me feel just like my father’s daughter. Maybe this explains my farmhand archetype and my incessant country girl attitude about a lot of things.