I grew up in the rural Midwest. We lived four miles from the nearest small town. The tallest building in town was the Farmer’s Coop Elevator. Every year I dreaded the first day of school. “Wake up!” “You don’t want to be late for school.” “…especially on the first day.” Mom hollered up the stairwell. I brushed my teeth, got dressed and walked to the bus stop. I felt like a condemned man walking the long hallway to face the executioner. What was the cause of my consternation? Summer vacation was over, but that wasn’t the issue. It was the essay, “What I did on my summer vacation.” Every teacher was the same, “Now class, I want you to write a one page essay about what you did on your summer vacation.” I was a shy kid and the next part was the final nail in my coffin. “When everyone finishes, I want each of you to stand in front of the class and read your essays.” What if I just blew off school that day and played hooky? In my small town, Dad would know of my truancy before I got home.
Farm kids didn’t take vacations? They had too many responsibilities. The only places I’d been that summer were the county and state fairs. That paled in comparison to exotic places like Disneyland or the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago. This would take some extra effort, I didn’t have much to work with. Maybe if I went into great detail I could expand my essay to one page. I could write that I rode on the tilt-a-whirl, got sick and threw-up. At least that would be realistic. It could even get a few laughs. I was no longer a little kid and not yet an adult. The “Fun House” was no longer that much fun. The “House of Horrors” didn’t seem to be that scary. Some of it seemed quite cheesy–especially the red lights and fans blowing tissue paper to simulate flames. The so-called “World’s Heaviest Man” at the “Freak Show” was sweaty and disgusting.
I was the only guest of honor at my own pity-party. Why did this bother me the way it did? Was it a “city kid” vs. “farm kid” thing? Somehow, I felt non-farm kids had it better. The family farm was sold many years ago. It went the way of most of small farms in this country–swallowed up by mega-farming operations–in the name of efficiency and higher profit margins. Many people are concerned about the quality of the food they eat. Have we sacrificed quality for quantity and profits? I’d like to think our old-fashioned methods are similar to how organic foods are grown now. Mom and Grandma raised chickens. The young males were butchered first since they didn’t lay eggs. Mom gave them milk clabber as a supplement. The milk came from our two dairy cows. Maybe that’s why her fried chicken tasted so good.
Here’s what I really did on my summer vacation. I helped work on our family farm. It was a cooperative effort. There were plenty of amazing things going on. My brothers, sister, and I had as many critters as Elly Mae on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” We watched life and death go full circle. Our Hereford bull sparred every day with young males for dominance. Sometimes deer joined our cattle when they ate. We doctored and cared for our animals when they were sick. I helped my Father plant, cultivate, and harvest crops. We had a large garden to maintain. The whole family helped prepare vegetables and fruit for canning. I was part of something bigger than myself. I had responsibilities, they came first. There was still plenty of time for fun. So to Mrs. “B,” my eighth grade English teacher, (wherever you are). I have plenty to say.