I spent most of my childhood on an 80-acre farm in southern Idaho in the 1950s. My life as a farmer’s daughter featured both good and bad times. While my parents allowed my sisters and me to explore, we also had to weed the garden. I rejoiced in new life as I held baby chicks in my hand. But I also experienced sorrow when my dad was unable to resuscitate a stillborn calf. This mixture of adversity and joy provided me with a strong foundation for life. I now realize that my childhood on the farm allowed to explore and enjoy my world. But it also provided opportunities to experience the satisfaction of hard work. And because my childhood included both joy and adversity, it gave me a solid foundation for life.
The Freedom and Fun of My Life as a Farmer’s Daughter
On summer days, my sisters and I (My brother wasn’t born yet.) roamed freely over more than an acre of land which included a huge lawn by our house, an orchard, and the barnyard. We climbed trees, swam in irrigation ditches, and played hide and seek. The orchard featured a thicket of Potawatomi plum trees, which grow more like vines than trees. Their intertwined branches formed rooms and caves. It took only a little imagination to turn them into mansions, robber hideouts, and hospitals for sick and wounded dolls. Any cavity could change identity at a whim and let us exercise our imaginations to the max.
As the oldest child, I was given a fair amount of responsibility early on. My next younger sister and I entertained and kept my other three sisters safe—usually. Once we got into pretty big trouble because we were using broken glass jars as bowls to mix mud pies in. They were good pies, too, since we had stolen the eggs from a few robins’ nests. What a surprise that my mom took exception to our younger sisters playing with broken glass!
Learning the Value of Hard Work
On a farm, everyone has to contribute, especially in a large family. Each of us started doing chores almost as soon as we could walk. Mom taught me to wash dishes using a bucket sitting on a tree stump in the yard. Even with a stool, I couldn’t have reached into the sink. As we grew, we took on all manner of jobs to contribute to keep things running smoothly. The most odious of all was cleaning the chicken coop in the winter. It was smelly, dusty, gross work. We loved the eggs but despised those chickens for pooping so much. Actually, that chore was more a curse than a blessing I experienced in my life as a farmer’s daughter.
Southern Idaho is potato country. Every October school would let out, and most of the students would spend two weeks helping in the potato harvest. The farmer would drive a tractor with a digger attached along the rows of potatoes. The front of the digger plowed underneath the potatoes and directed them onto a conveyor belt made of interlocked iron rods. This shook off the dirt and carried the potatoes out the back end where they dropped on top of the row. Working as a team, my sister and I would pick up the potatoes and put them into two baskets about the size of a five-gallon bucket. Then, we would dump the fifteen to twenty pounds of potatoes from the baskets into a burlap bag. We placed the filled bag alongside the row where it would be gathered onto a truck and taken to a cellar. (Here’s a video of how potatoes were harvested in the 1950s and another video showing how potatoes are harvested today.)
When we first started this job, I was about ten and my sister would have been eight years old. Together we earned seven cents per bag. If we didn’t play too much, we could pick about one hundred bags in a day, earning $3.50 each. It seemed like a fortune to us! As teenagers, we were able to pick two hundred bags in a day. Twelve days at $7.00 a day netted me eighty-four dollars for two weeks’ work. I had to buy some clothes with my earnings. But I also bought a yearbook from seventh grade on and my senior class ring.
The Blessings of My Life as a Farmer’s Daughter
Potato picking was hard, dirty work, and very cold if it happened to snow. In order to make our two hundred bag goal, my sister and I had to keep our heads down and our hands busy all day long. I loved stopping to stretch my aching back at the end of each long row. I would count the bags and consider what kind of fabric to buy for a new dress. And, it was so gratifying to line up with all the other harvest workers at the end of the week. As my dad or an uncle counted out my earnings, I knew for sure that I had accomplished something significant. I had gotten dirty and lifted baskets nearly half my weight, but the wages made it totally worthwhile.
I’ve had numerous jobs since my potato picking days, all of them involving hard work and a paycheck. When I taught junior high, I hoped I was helping some of my students appreciate the value of hard work and the satisfaction of a job well done. But as I look back, even that was not as gratifying as my annual school vacations spent in the potato field. I could easily see the results of my work in rows of well-filled bags of potatoes. It was much harder to recognize any influences I might have had on an unmotivated student in seventh grade English class.
The Farm Helped Prepare me for Life
I’m glad I grew up on a farm. The freedom to roam, the outlets for my imagination, and the opportunity to learn the value of hard work prepared me for life. I contributed to our family and learned to work for what I need and want. My parents cared for me and often sacrificed to give me more than they could really afford. In those ways, they modeled the kindness and grace of God. They taught me that he made the potatoes grow and multiply into bags of blessing that helped feed our family through the winter. God provided my sisters and me with many hours of joy in the playground formed in the thicket of Potawatomi plum trees. Both the joys and the hardships of farm life proved to be blessings. I praise God for all the valuable lessons I learned in my life as a farmer’s daughter.
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