Note: My two sisters and I were raised on a farm in North Buxton, Ontario. Our grandparents lived down the road, as did many of our uncles, aunts and cousins. Our one-story house had a huge yard surrounded by large barns and hundreds of acres of fields. We raised pigs and beef cattle and grew soybeans, wheat, hay and seed corn. My older sister, Jackie, remembers farm life most vividly. Here she shares some of her memories.
There were two words you would never say growing up on a farm: I’m bored.
Not only would you immediately be given something to do, but chances are it would be the most mundane, labor-intensive job possible. And there was no option. There was no “How much will you pay me?” You just did it.
Luckily our father or grandfather would offer a small pittance to make the task more palatable, so there was some incentive. Picking up loose corncobs around the corncrib could net 25 cents a bushel, which was a lot of money when you’re 6 years old.
One entire summer I fed pigs and received $100, in $5 bills no less! I couldn’t believe my newfound wealth. I remember sitting on the living room floor and throwing all those bills in the air like confetti.
Of course, I did what I would do now: I spent it on clothes.
When not in school, or eating or sleeping, I was outside. I would ride my bike for hours, hang out in the barns making friends with our cows and pigs and run through the pasture trying to catch flying grasshoppers. The corncrib became a huge slide – I’d climb inside and scale the collapsing pile of cobs and slide to the bottom where my dogs would be waiting for me.
As a young girl, I was alone a lot. Not only because of the age difference between my sisters and I, but also because of the distance we lived from other families. My companions were my two farm dogs, who accompanied me through the fields and nearby creek and shared a lopsided teepee I would build with scrap wood and an old blanket.
My playground was the haymow. Bales were sometimes stacked 20 feet high next to each other along with straw that had busted away from their twine. I spent hours in the mow, making forts and leaping off teetering bales into the loose straw. The scariest areas were the open sections to the barnyard below. One wrong jump and I would have landed in manure up to my neck!
At the end of the day, I’d be filthy with scratches all over my arms and legs and hair full of straw.
Farm life also put me years ahead of other children. I remember being on the riding mower for the first time at age 6, and running over a sapling Dad had just planted because I wasn’t strong enough to stand on the clutch to stop the mower. After hearing my screams, he quickly ran to help. He dried my tears and assured me that all was okay. Then he sent me down the next row as he returned to the barn.
He believed in teaching by doing and never made a difference because I was a girl.
My arch nemesis was an ancient tractor they called “old faithful.” I believe it was from the 1930s – at least it seemed like it. The tractor had a cast iron seat and wooden knob on the steering wheel. At my age (under 10), I had to literally stand on the clutch with both feet to slow down and switch gears. It was the same tractor Dad had me drive up and down the fields, pulling a wagon of teen guys hired for the day to bale straw.
Of course, I would let the clutch out too quickly, tossing everyone off the wagon or causing the stacked bales to fall. I would be in tears but Dad would come up, show me again how to ease the clutch and off I would go…until the next time.
Repetitiveness and embarrassment certainly sped up the learning process.
I learned to drive the farm truck quite early, too. Starting at age 11 or 12, I often got off the school bus and headed to the fields to help with baling or raking – driving the tractor until it was too dark to continue or Mom called us for supper.
Oftentimes, I was sent to local farm dealerships for fertilizer or machinery parts if Mom and Dad were in the field and had broken down. So by the time I legally got my driver’s license, I had been driving for four years. That was the norm in a farming community.
In high school, extra-curricular activities were sometimes out of the question. Depending on the time of year, we were expected in the field and chores needed to be done. Animals had to be fed. I couldn’t get a ride to and from events if our parents were in the field. In fact, I don’t remember them ever coming to a track meet or a volleyball game.
Although there would be a twinge of resentment, it was understood that farming was our livelihood and involved the whole family. And besides, it was no different for my friends who were also working on their family farms.
Farming was hard, manual work. But we were surrounded by relatives who also farmed. We were doing it together. At harvest, those who were finished would help those who still needed help.
With working hard came playing hard. I remember our parents hosting or going to house parties to celebrate the end of season in the fall and snowmobile parties in the winter.
It was a time of bittersweet memories that forever shaped my views and beliefs. I have long moved off of the family farm, however, my husband and I do live in the country. Our farmhouse is surrounded by acres of farmland, a constant reminder of the richness of farm life and growing up in this close-knit community.