It’s A New Day
on the Farm in Elkinsville
by Bob Cross
It’s morning time on the farm. “Time to rise and shine”—famous words of reveille echoed by my Mom to bring me out of a comforting sleep and to prepare me for the new day at hand.
It disturbed me because for the most part I didn’t harbor much enthusiasm to face this new day. In the winter there was no incentive to leave my warm cocoon of covers and touch the cold floors in our house. With only a potbelly stove for heat and no insulation in the walls of the house, sometimes it seemed as cold inside as it was outside. Who in their right mind would be enthusiastic and fired up about getting out of bed in this house?
When I was a boy the “chores” also greeted me daily in the early morning hours before school. One of my jobs was to greet our cow Betsy and begin the process of cajoling and convincing her that she was happy to see me and that it was okay if I sat down and squeezed her teats. I persuaded her to release the milk her little factory had been manufacturing while we all slept. Betsy did not give up anything without a tussle and was always very confrontational from the start. By her attitude she put it this way, “If you want it take it but don’t expect a lot of cooperation from me. You’re on my turf young man and please don’t get too presumptuous about my cooperating.” Many times, as a source of arrogance, Betsy would swing her tail and catch me at about the neck level with a slap while twisting her head around at me to see if I got the message. If she experienced a higher level of frustration she would simply raise her back foot and attempt to put it in the milk bucket and spill all the milk. She was telling me if I thought I could do better I should go to the grocery, get some milk already bottled and quit hanging around to put the squeeze on her.
Confronting a cow with an attitude was only one of my morning chores.
I also had the pleasure and privilege of slopping the hogs in the early morning hours. The hogs showed their appreciation during feeding time. One thing I admire about hogs is that they are not prima donnas when it comes to eating. From day old bread and day old donuts to left over watermelon rinds and vegetable peelings, every morsel is consumed. You could tell from the level of grunting noises that the hogs enjoyed the feed trough. Hogs are famous for cleaning their troughs and not having any leftovers.
Feeding the horses, sheep, and chickens rounded out the morning assault on my time.
After chores I had to rush in, eat breakfast, gather up my schoolbooks, and wait for the school bus to arrive. Country breakfast at our house was always good and ranged from fried eggs with smoke-cured bacon, biscuits, on occasion fried potatoes, and sorghum molasses. There was never a lack of gratitude around our breakfast table. The only disconcerting part of breakfast was that the older kids always wanted to carve out a bigger portion for themselves. It was advantageous to be quick to get your share. If challenged you had to be prepared to stand your ground. Our house was a democracy—it was one for all and all for one—but being mild-mannered without speaking up meant you missed the fun and the food.
The rigorous morning on the farm prepared us for the tasks at school. Teachers in my one-room schools hardly ever prescribed homework—which suited me just fine. In one-room schools, from the first grade level until seventh grade, I learned a lot by the absorption method. While all classes were taught in the same room it was clear that repetition and interaction between all grade levels enhanced learning.
But getting back to chores. Being one of nine kids and the youngest of four brothers, my chore education was taught at an accelerated pace. I realized the validity of an old axiom (source of which I am not clear) that the ___ flows down hill and when you are at the bottom expect a generous dose. But, on balance, our family structure was such that everyone seemed to get a fair amount of work done and shared in the responsibilities when the occasion called for their participation.
The one thing we could always depend on day after day was that Mom and Dad, our parents and role models, would always do their part. As our responsibilities grew over the years so did our realization and appreciation of our parents’ sacrifices. Farm life provided the setting for many life lessons and for character development.
I recalled those memories from growing up on a farm near Elkinsville, Indiana, located in southwestern Brown County—a special place in rural America. There was something special about our lifestyle there although at times it could be very difficult and required a lot of patience.