Friday, April 10, 2009

Old Timers

I read a post over at Irish Gumbo by cIII from Goat and Tater today about an old timer he remembered from his childhood. It got me to remembering one from my own. Not my Grandfather, who is far and away the most prominent in the pantheon of old timers in my book. And not our old plumber George who is responsible for about 90% of the geezer-isms that I collect. My thoughts turn tonight toward an old farmer I worked a couple summers for. A man affectionately referred to as, "The Boss".

The Boss was a wizened old farmer type, as twisted and dried up as an old corn stalk and twice as tough. He held a particular charm in that he had lost an arm at the elbow in a corn picker years back and wore a prosthetic in its place. My best friend at the time and I were too old to be freaked out, even when he wore the one that had a hay hook on the end. Most of the time he wore the one with pincers and every so often you'd see him in his best coat with his Sunday Go To Meetin' hand on, the one that really looked like a hand. (He gave me his old Sunday Go To Meetin hand, we used to slam it in the hatch back of my Chevette and one guy would work the cables while the rest peed their pants at the looks on passing motorists faces.)

There really wasn't that much that was charming about him though. He worked us like dogs. We'd hay for him after school until the sun went down and when the hay was all in there was plenty else to do. I learned how to drive a tractor and how to fix one. I learned how stupid and skittish cows really are and how to get them in and out of a barn. Mostly what I remember learning was was tough really was. (Funny side note: he had a silo that was continuously on fire. It was one of the air tight glass lined jobs and it caught from too much moisture making the silage self ignite in the bottom. Everything they did just made it worse so they sealed it back up and just let it simmer. The outside of it was a constant 200 degrees Fahrenheit for years.)

When we took a break he'd sit us down at the picnic table in the shade of an ancient maple tree and bring us instant coffee in plastic mugs. We'd sit and he'd start in on spinning yarns whether we wanted him to or not. He'd tell us about how he used to run a garage when he was young. I never saw a photo but I can clearly picture him as a young man with a head of hair, slick with grease in a blue coverall, grinning in front of a lift with a wrench in his hand.

Mostly though he'd talk about farm life. A few good times but mostly hard times. Simple logic would make one think that the people who grow our food would do all right, but that's far from the case. He talked about failed crops, broken machinery, sick cows, sick kids, bad loans, lost land, lightning strikes, fires, and a million other tragedies.

I won't bore you with all the details. They're just details. They're probably totally meaningless to anyone and really not all that meaningful to me. But those stories are just one more of the things that make me feel tied to this place. Every time my mind roams over the hills to the South they linger on a little farm. A little forty head dairy barn whose old beams watched a man live and toil and die, working the land and scraping by. People talk about Americana. Chevy commercials churn it out in stylized thirty second chunks. I actually worked there for two summers. I heard the stories of that little parcel that every once in a while will creep up from the depths of my mind like August heat rising from a field of Timothy hay.

Some kids grow up in the city and the concrete and steel become a part of who they are. Some kids grow up in the country and spend all their time trying to be like the city kids, slick and hard. There's absolutely no escape, no real departure from the location that made you. That's how you end up with Black No. 1 goths with studded faces that unconsciously lip synch to Sweet Home Alabama (they still know all the words, of course). And that's how you end up with me, the ever running, ever technical sound guy slash electrician who still stops once in a while and thinks back to what an old timer taught him about Jersey cows and alfalfa and hard work.

God rest ya, Boss. And thanks.



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1 comment:

  1. That my friend, was an excellent, excellent meditation on the "soil from which you sprung".

    I've been thinking about that idea of the location, the place that made me, a lot lately. And you are so right: there is no real departure.

    And that is, perhaps, not such a bad thing after all. Good stuff, my man.

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