Isaiah 28:29 – The Lord Almighty is a wonderful teacher and gives the farmer wisdom.
Gratitude Day 763
When I think of what things have influenced my life the most, there are many. Near the top of the list would be growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm.
I was a farm kid. A farmer’s daughter. While I had no choice in the matter, it was one that I embraced and claimed. Growing up on a farm has deeply affected who I am, what I value, how I live, the choices that I make and what I consider my core values.
My earliest memories are of playing in the sand with my younger sister the summer my parent’s built a new barn for the milking cows. Debbie and I lived many hours in the barn that summer, playing with tractors and machinery, along with our dolls and Barbies. By then, we were mixing up powered milk with hot water in old ice cream buckets for the baby calves. We learned to carry the buckets four at a time while not spilling milk. Our fingers coaxed the calves to drink out of the buckets trying not to splash milk all over.
We nuzzled our faces in the soft hair of the calves, as well as the oily wool of our sheep. My sisters and I learned to drive tractor on a John Deere 60 that had a hand clutch. I loaded dinner in the basket of my bike and delivered it to my brother or Dad while they planted corn and cut hay. When my friends did not want to go into the barn because of the smell, I started washing my hair in the kitchen sink before going to school to make sure the smell did not go with me to school. Those same friends did not understand that the milk their parents bought at the store was actually the same milk that was in the bulk tank in our milk house.
Growing up on a farm met being exposed to things much earlier than some kids. We were very aware of high interest rates in the 1970’s when inflation was higher than it is now. Gas was not always readily available and sometimes, we had to wait in line. My siblings and I overheard countless conversations about unpaid bills and too small of milk checks along with questions about how school shoes could be bought. Disappointment when a top producing cow became ill and the never-ending bills from my Dad’s farm-related accidents were regular, normal conversations.
It did not matter what day of the year it was, there were cows to milk and chores to be done. There were frozen pipes on Christmas mornings and January days so cold no tractor would start. One Saturday morning my glasses broke when a cow kicked me while milking and somehow, I still played at a band performance later that morning. The missed movie dates with friends because there was hay to unload and cows to milk. Leaving school early to do the afternoon milking while Mom and Dad filled silo and harvested corn.
Summer vacation was showing cattle and sheep at local fairs, culminating at the state fair in August. We used the animals we had on the farm, which often meant standing in the middle of the pack. A good day was winning showmanship, awarded to the person who presents the animal well. Our grandparents sat in the stands and helped with chores so we could exhibit dairy cattle, sell lambs in the sale and help in the 4-H food stand.
The friendships developed while keeping our exhibit neat and tidy, washing animals and playing cards are treasured to this day. It’s the kind of shared memories that are never forgotten and gladly recalled. The experiences of working together in 4-H, FFA and other youth organizations helped us develop lifelong leadership skills. A work ethic that expects you to do whatever is needed to finish the job and do it right, even when means late into the night or early in the morning.
It is meeting others who have this same background and having an instant connection. Comparing stories, adventures and heartbreaks because these are just as regular on a farm as the fun and exciting times. It’s knowing that a cow really has four stomachs and when she has cold ears, she is sick.
The past months, Hubby Rick and I have watched two of our grandkids prepare beef cattle for the county fair. We’ve watched them develop bonds with their cattle and become more confident in their abilities. This week is fair week. They have shown their cattle and are enjoying being with friends at the fair. I pray they are having some great experiences that I had. My memories encourage me to support their wishes and judge a fair or two so another generation can benefit from these memory-generating activities.
Whether farming is your fulltime occupation or not, the lessons learned, and the knowledge obtained will craft who you become. Hubby Rick can fix almost anything because he had to fix everything growing up on a farm. We do not live on a farm today, but we watch grandkids experience farm life as their Dad and grandfather did.
When my parents moved to town, it often bothered my Mom that I never called their house in town “my home.” Even though our mail was no longer delivered to this mailbox, she knew that in my heart, my home was still eight miles north of town. And it would always be.
The last time I was near the area where I grew up, I drove by our old farm. Several buildings have been torn down and a couple different ones built. The barns have not had animals in them for years and the crop land lies fallow. I can still tell you where the cow fell into the well, where the sheep fence was and what tractor we used to drive the chopper. Growing up on a farm, I never questioned if there was a Creator. I assumed there had to be Someone who started the whole life and death process, like we learned at Sunday School. Daily life only confirmed that babies are born, some get sick, some are strong but eventually everything dies. It is called the life cycle.
Today, farming is different from when I was kid on a small Wisconsin dairy farm. Yes, the size and scale is different. There is less hand labor and more gadgets to help move everything and anything. But the lessons remain for most farm kids. Hard work. Driving early. Figuring things out. Making due with almost nothing at times. Watching life come into this world and observing when things do not turn out well.
Some of my hardest moments come from growing up on a farm. Some of my very best experiences and memories only happened because this is how I was raised. The smells bring back memories. The stories are relatable and transferable. The achy muscles know confirm the hard work and long days. And yet? I was given a fantastic gift – the gift of being raised on a farm.
For lessons learned from growing up on a farm, I am very grateful.
Almighty God – We are reminded over and over that how and where we are raised impacts our lives forever. For those, like me, who were raised on a farm, we thank you for the salt-of-the-earth livelihoods we witnesses. Teach us all to embrace our backgrounds and the lessons we learned that helped develop into the people we are today. Amen.
Note – featured photo was taken by my friend Lisa on their family dairy farm.
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