Growing up on a farm was an experience I really appreciated. Each day a new animal was born, a new crop planted, or a new type of machinery introduced. I looked forward to a new adventure every day.
Sometimes the fun started before dawn. Squawking chickens would awaken my grandfather, and he would jump out of bed, grabbing the loaded shotgun he kept propped in the corner by his bed. Grandpa slept in a long cotton nightshirt. The sight of him running outside with his gun amused me. He did a good job of protecting his hens.
When Grandpa came back in, he would tell us what the threat had been and return the loaded gun to its corner. We were told never to touch that gun, and this was one rule I respected because I had seen the damage a gun could inflict. Grandpa taught me to shoot a Crackshot rifle when I was six years old. The farm animals posed another danger, mostly the bull. Machinery could also be dangerous.
My cousin, Gene lived with my grandparents before I was born. Daddy was plowing in the river bottoms with a disc harrow. Gene followed him there. As my father made a round of plowing, Gene jumped onto the back of the moving tractor and touched Dad’s shoulder. Dad turned off the tractor. He was shaken by what could have happened. He explained to Gene that if his timing had been off he would have fallen between the tractor and the disc harrow. “I would have found your body when I made the next round.” Daddy told him.
Gene’s father, Allen, worked in manufacturing and considered it to be a notch above farming. He had a management position, which he was very proud of. Allen took care of his appearance, wearing mostly suits. He purchased a new Ford car and drove it to the farm to show it off. Gene ran up to look at the car, with his pet goat at his heels. The goat jumped onto the hood of the new car. “Get him off there! He will scratch it.” Allen yelled.
“I’ll get him off, Daddy!” Gene yelled back. He picked up a rock and threw it at the goat. It did not hit the goat but instead, smashed the windshield of Allen’s new Ford. Gene and the goat both survived.
My brother, Phil, often encountered dangers. The farm where we moved had copperhead snake dens. There was a pond to which we were not allowed to go unless there was an adult with us. Phil disappeared one day. A farm hand found his footprints leading to the pond but no footprints leading away. My mom was crying. We kept calling his name and looking for him. I caught sight of Phil as he came in from the woods. Phil knew he was in trouble. Dad arrived, but he was too upset to mention punishment. He believed Phil had drowned.
When Phil was three years old, he had two close calls. Dad had bought a wild horse and attempted to break him to ride. This was the only horse I remember that he could not tame. Each time Dad put his foot in the stirrup, the horse would buck so violently he could not mount.
One day Phil yelled for us, “Come here. Look at me!” He had put a stool beside the horse and climbed into the saddle. Phil sat there atop the wild horse swinging a length of reaper twine like a lasso. The horse stood stock still. Daddy knew if he approached the horse it would buck. He instructed Phil to climb back down the same way he had mounted. Once Phil was safe, Daddy tried to mount. The horse immediately began to buck furiously. The horse must have sensed that Phil was a child and non-threatening.
On another day, Phil managed to get to the barn alone. A friend of Dads had left his car parked near a block wall that was being added to the milk barn. The door was open and the keys in the ignition. To a three-year-old, the key was an invitation. Phil cranked the car, causing it to lurch into the wall. My dad was so scared his voice was trembling as he tried to explain to Phil that he could have been killed. He finished with a plea to Phil, “Promise me you won’t get into another car and hit something.”
“I won’t Daddy, next time, go up the road.” was Phil’s reply.
When Phil was six years old, he and my sister Faye walked up the hay elevator into the barn loft. Faye jumped off just as the elevator was turned on. It flipped Phil onto the barn loft, broke his leg, and he was in a cast all summer long. Despite many events, we all managed to survive farm life.
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