In our Monday "Meet the Farmers" series that I began last week, I wrote of the "ideal" childhood in which I grew up for the first seven years of my life. Although those first seven years were in actuality filled with struggles for my parents, they never let my brother and I know of how hard things were, and we knew only a home filled with love and gentle care. Those years were cut short when my mom was killed in a tragic horse riding accident.
My parents were actually in the process of moving from our little homestead house on Mt. Olive Road to a friend's farm in the same town when the accident occurred that took our mother's life. The recession of the 1970's had hit our family hard and my dad was laid off for two years from the automobile plant where he worked. To make ends meet, we moved into a very small trailer on the farm. Perhaps this is where my love of cows began in earnest. The trailer set right in the middle of a cow pasture. There was nothing to keep the mixed herd of beef cattle from walking right up to our trailer where they would rub their head on the corners. The first sounds I heard most every morning were those of the cattle outside my bedroom window.
We worked a lot. Even though we were young, my brother and I were expected to do our part to lighten the work load. We had our household chores and then there was the "farm" work. We had calves to bottle feed at times and when my dad's 12 sows had babies, we bottle fed the weak piglets and helped with vaccinations. We were frequently in the hay fields and we helped with getting the wood in for winter. My dad taught me to drive a tractor when I was about nine years old and I was often seen driving up and down our long, gravel driveway by myself in the car when I was ten to eleven years of age. We had a huge garden and spent many hours in the hot sun weeding, hoeing, and gathering produce. We helped with the food preservation as well. On this farm, was a commercial chicken house where thirty three thousand birds were brought in as peeps and raised up to laying age. When I was eleven, I began helping to stock the peeps. Then when the birds were starting to lay, I worked with a crew to de-beak and vaccinate the birds and then ship them out. The latter was extremely hot, back breaking work and I was paid a half a penny a chicken for each one I caught and vaccinated. It was also during these years that I was introduced to dairy cattle and raw milk, when my dad began helping a neighboring farmer milk his commercial herd.
When my work was caught up, I was given the freedom to roam the land freely. I took solace in the woods and pastures. I had some favorite spots to frequent. One was a small "seasonal" water fall where the moss grew thick. There was something magical about that spot, and I often thought surely the woodland fairies must be hiding and observing my intrusion. I also spent many hours in the creek catching craw dads, and minnows, and staying just out of reach of the snapping turtles. Long walks through the fields; skipping rocks on the pond; playing in an old abandoned cabin; jumping off the elevated, abandoned railroad and sliding down it's sandy banks; searching for the antique railroad spikes on the abandoned tracks; sliding down the leaf covered hills in cardboard boxes in the fall; and sledding in the winter were some of the ways we entertained ourselves on the farm when we were not working.
These were years filled with struggle for me personally as I tried to begin accepting my mother's death as well as the introduction of a step mother into my life when my dad remarried. I also became aware of how "poor" we were compared to most of my friends as well as the differences between their life in the suburbs and city and my life on the farm. I loved living on the farm and the lessons I learned there have stayed with me all my life. I learned that work is fun as well as rewarding, and I learned to find solace in nature. I learned that being different is good and that time alone can be a treasure. The years on the farm reinforced my interest in livestock and agriculture, shaping who I would become as an adult, and preparing me for a life on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as the wife of a third generation farmer.