It was a typical, hot Texas summer day, and as I lay on the examination table, the doctor retracting some type of snake-like camera device I didn’t really want to see, we started talking about something other than my colon and the various polyps nesting therein.
Instead, we started talking about summer on the farm.
It seems we’re both farm boys, long since transplanted to the big city. But farm boys are never really far from the farm, where the summer days tend to run together, filled with one dawn-to-dark chore after another until the school year mercifully begins again.
I still wince visibly when a city friend talks rapturously about how he’d love to spend a summer working on a farm, how much fun it would be, how the opportunity to commune with nature is simply irresistible.
Little does that friend know that as a kid, I used to lie awake at night trying to figure out how to swap places with my city friends, whose biggest chore each week seemed to be taking a garbage bag out to the alley or mowing a 50-by-125-foot lot mostly covered with cement and buildings anyway.
Those citified 30 minutes of chores each week seemed like a true summer vacation compared with my endless day: feeding cattle, mending fences, raking and baling hay, painting the barn, mowing the lawn, feeding the chickens, even milking a cow or two.
And all of this had to be done, and done right, according to my parents’ exacting specifications, before I could even think about doing anything fun, such as taking a shower.
And so it was that in the midst of my farmwork-induced tortured youth, I learned the importance of time management, dependability, resourcefulness, imagination, and simple appreciation for the rare hour or two with absolutely nothing to do.
As the doctor and I talked, I asked if he was doing anything fun this summer. No, he said, he was working to earn money to pay for his college-aged kids’ various internships and vacations, some in foreign countries. And I thought of my own much-younger sons, whose summer basically revolves around their own schedule of camp, the swimming pool, the movie theater and, of course, the television.
By way of comparison, farm life in the summer revolves around something else’s schedule. Fields had to be worked before rain arrived. Hay was baled when it was cured just right, regardless of the holiday or personal plan it might interrupt. Animals had to be fed on time, because they depended on us to keep them alive.
In spite of our farm traumas, the doctor and I have done all right. Or is it because of the farm experience that we’ve done all right?
That would be a good question to talk about with my sons this summer, if I can get them to look up from their video games.