Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lessons from a Farm

This is my most recent 'finished reading' book. The author is Jerry Apps, published by Voyageur Press, 2005. I read this on recommendation of The Deliberate Agrarian, Herrick Kimball, and I'm glad I did.

Mr. Apps recounts his life growing up on the family farm in the little community of Chain O' Lakes, Wisconsin (Near the village of Wild Rose), back in the 1930's through 50's. He recounts many of the daily and yearly chores that marked life and made it good. On several occasions, he laments the purchase of 'new' technology that made life easier, like an automatic milking machine, a television set, a corn binder/thresher. He laments these things because they heralded the end of a way of life, one where people came together, shared their lives, knew each other, and had real community. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from his mother's money ledger, the excerpts introducing the subject of the chapter.

In this wonderful little 223 page book, we look back into the real life of an early American farm family. We share the joys of getting electricity in the house, of a good grain harvest, we get a small taste of sweat and toil of everyday life, and we hear some of the heartbreak that was as much a part of life then as it is today.

But I want this to be more than a book report (sorry if it's gotten boring). In the chapter called 'Windstorm', we're told of the spring of 1950 when a windstorm like no other blew through and literally took the barn off it's foundations. The milk cows had to be moved to a neighboring farm for several weeks while the barn was repaired. Unfortunately, the cows acquired brucellosis, or Bang's disease, while there and had to be sent to slaughter. These two calamities made life very difficult for the Apps family for some time after. The strawberry and cucumber patches were expanded to help provide a little more income until the new cow herd was up to full size and production. What struck me most profoundly out of all the book was what Mr. Apps says next:

"There was little complaining about the hard work or reduced income. Without saying anything, Pa convinced me and my brothers, through his actions, that the family had to work together as a team if we were to survive these hard times. Each of us, without bragging or talking about it, was proud to help; each of us knew our contribution was important to the farm's survival. Those years brought our family as close together as it had ever been." (p. 200-201)

Ok, some lessons... First of all, most families today aren't playing as a team, shucks, the members aren't even playing the same game. Second, it's the onus of the father to show the way. That's how it is with most things... faith, work, family.

I've often wondered recently, with economics being what they are, if things got worse, would people be as resourceful as they were back during the Great Depression? I'm not so sure. First, things would have to get so much worse than they are before people seriously start thinking about alternative means of survival (gardening, chickens, doing without, etc.). But I'm just not sure that many of today's families have the basic fabric fabric necessary to hold together and pull through. I think we're too soft, too accustomed to creature comforts that we'd just about die without our cable or internet (when was the last time you actually wrote a letter - you know, with paper- and mailed it to someone? I know I can't remember when. It's a lost art). This is just a side comment though. But I'd be interested in knowing what you think.

The big lesson to me is the responsibility that is mine. Oh, I've known about it, but this little book just kinda brings it home again. If my kids are going to learn the intrinsic value of contributing to the family economy with their work and effort, I'll have to lead the way and teach them. Not an easy task when the human nature desires to avoid work and difficulty, if you call hoeing a garden a difficulty -which it certainly can be.

The other lesson is more about the work part. Hard work. Some things aren't so hard, like hoeing the garden. That's just monotonous. But there are days when work has to be done whether you want to do it or not. A lot of folks don't know hard work. I wonder if I do. Will I/do I have what it takes to tackle hard work? I've worked hard before, but will I pass that on to my kids?

Here's the really personal part. I can take this little challenge one of two ways. I can look at it as a positive encouragement and run with it, and/or I can see it as 'one more thing' that I'll probably not do to well with and give up. I can be quite pessimistic at times, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. So I'll likely take both approaches, depending on the day and my mood. Being a father is a never ending job. The good thing is that I don't have any crazy notions of being the perfect dad - I screwed that up LONG ago. I'll settle for being as good as I can be, and if that earns me a 'great dad' once in awhile, all the better.

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