This is the final part of a little mini series on 3 key values established in me during my growing up years on a farm in Arkansas. These values have defined my personal and professional life.
Value number 3 – Endurance.
Some of my most vivid memories come from some of the darkest of times and how through my family’s determination, imagination and resourcefulness, we managed to pull through.
There were plenty of challenges associated with living and working with cattle.There was the biggest bull named Oscar whose forehead measured 12 inches across. My dad’s track experience came in handy one day, when Oscar (who instead of paying attention to the cows he was placed in the field to entertain) decided instead to have a go at chasing my dad from one end to the other. Dad managed to out run him and rather athletically dive & roll under the white board fence to escape. I was sitting on this same fence, cheering, ‘run Daddy run’ — when the frustrated bull, having failed to catch his prey, turned his dark eyes on me. I scrambled off my perch in plenty of time to escape his head ramming into the fence to knock me off it.
And then there were the tragedies we had to endure, courtesy of Mother Nature … like the time lightning hit a tree killing 10 of our cows. It was a horrific sight. It was the first time I saw my Dad cry.
Storms would also bring floods that destroyed the fences we had worked so hard to build. And as if that wasn’t enough, the cows would get loose from the fallen fencing, gorge themselves in the neighbouring fields filled with clover and Johnson grass and get fatally bloated. Dad tried to save them by stabbing to release the gas … but for some it was too late.
Heavy snow also caused chaos. It caved in a couple of our chicken houses, killing thousands of birds (felt like millions). The snow was so deep Mom would carry me on her shoulders, I remember falling and disappearing into the drifts. Then there were the ice storms… when mom had to crawl on hands & knees with me riding on her back so we could get from one place to the other. Water pipes would be frozen for weeks so we had to run a hose from a well to our house for water.
I suppose kids of today would think one of the greatest hardships we endured was lack of technology as this was life long before the existence of internet and cell phones. Our phone was on a party line, so you had to wait patiently for whoever was on it to free up the line … all while resisting the temptation to ‘listen in’ for the latest countryside gossip.
Whether during good times or bad, if I ever dared utter the words ‘I don’t care’, three words that just seemed to come more naturally when one becomes a teenager, my dad would swiftly retort, ‘you’ve got to care’. I understand better than ever what that means and cringe anytime I hear someone say they don’t care.
All the animals are long gone, the red barn no longer stands, many of the chicken houses are gone, the milk & hay barns aren’t long for this world, but those memories and the values that arise from them are part of my DNA and will last as long as I do and hopefully a bit longer.
Pieces of wood from the red barn were salvaged and transformed into a bird house of the same design. When I see the baby birds fly from it in the springtime, it’s as if there is some wonderful circle of life thing going on with that barn. Life indeed goes on.
It was hard work that farm. But it was a small price to pay for the lasting impact and legacy of values it has afforded me.