My wife and I inherited a southern Indiana farm several years ago. I was elated, having wanted to farm since watching Green Acres on television with Oliver Wendell Douglas and his zany sidekicks — Eb, Fred, Arnold the pig, and Newt. Without even realizing it, I’d been preparing all my life to be a farmer.
Farm life changes through the year, each season bringing with it certain tasks. Farmers whittle in the spring on their front porches. I learned that from watching the Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Pa would whittle while Geoduck and Crowbar, his Native American friends, did all the work. Farming is hard work, and it’s best to have help.
“We need some helpers around here,” I told my wife. “At least two, but maybe three or four.”
“Whatever for?” she asked. Even though my wife grew up on a farm, she is surprisingly uninformed about such matters.
“Oh, this and that,” I said. “First one thing and then another. Lassoing chickens and such. You know, farm work.”
It was apparent I was going to have to do all the heavy lifting if our farm was to make it.
I nevertheless got much whittling done in the spring before I moved onto the summer work — praying for rain.
I did that all through June, July, and August, spending hour after hour beseeching the Lord. Farmers do a lot of beseeching. I would head upstairs after lunch, lie down on my bed, and beseech. My wife was suspicious and at one point accused me of napping, even though the perfect amount of rain fell, for which I received no credit. Farming, I was learning, is a thankless task.
Autumn is the best season to be a farmer because of the hoedowns and square dances. Again, I was well prepared. In seventh grade, our Phys. Ed. teacher, Mr. Johnson, had taught us to square dance. I learned all the steps — do-si-do, allemande left, and ’round the barn. The last move was my own invention and consisted of repeatedly circling my dance partner until I got dizzy and fell over.
Hoedowns and square dances can occupy one’s entire autumn — to the point of exhaustion — so I was glad to see winter roll around. In winter farmers huddle around the fire or go to the general store and sit on a cracker barrel. Except now crackers come in boxes, so farmers sit on boxes not barrels. It isn’t good for the crackers, but that’s not the farmer’s problem. No, the farmer has a bigger problem — borrowing money from the bank. After the farmer is sufficiently rested, he visits the bank where he is told he owes too much money already. The farmer pleads, the banker refuses to loan him money, and the next day the sheriff shows up and orders the farmer to move. The farmer’s wife spends the rest of the day crying and wiping dishes while the children eat the last of the stale bread. That night, just when matters are desperate, the farmer’s friends show up, a whole crowd of them. A reluctant spokesman is shoved forward, he bows his head, scuffs his boot on the ground, and says, in a shy sort of way, “Well, Dale (a surprising number of farmers are named Dale), we reckoned we’d help you.” He pulls a dollar bill from his overalls and hands it to Dale. Soon everyone is handing Dale wadded up dollar bills until Dale has enough money to pay the banker and get a new loan.
It is rare to see an individual so well-suited for a vocation as I am for farming. Oliver Wendell Douglas had it exactly right — green acres is the place for me.