The Farm – A Brief Story

I’m a city boy, born and bred, not a downtown, highrise, tough and dirty type, but one acquainted with the slightly rougher edges; the traffic, the roar of trains, the corner store, civilized but not so civilized that there wasn’t room to run and and shout, to make the most of hot, hot summers and ice cold winters, to run beneath the sprinkler or build a snowman in the yard or walk to school, boots splashing in the puddles. Somewhere between the gritty Bowery Boys and bucolic Lassie Come Home. I was what you might call “soft”, blissfully unaware of how that roast on the table came to be there or how the vegetables arrived in the local grocery store then on to pot then to plate.

The father of my sister’s boyfriend had a working farm, 100 acres in the stoney hills north of our suburban home. It had been mostly cleared generations ago but still found rocks to turn a plough blade. Small mountains of stone grew year by year, dug up and tossed there as the furrows were turned. Orderly patches of wheat, oats or barley, or just plain grass for feed or bedding were planted, grown and reaped as the season demanded. As my sister (seven years my senior) courted her beau and grew accustomed to these farming ways, I often tagged along, a small, unwelcome baggage and chaperone and obtained an education in country ways.

Long ago memories of rowdy pigs and lazy cows all nestled in their stalls within the stoney walls of the barn’s foundation, I don’t recall any horses, but I could be wrong, and barn cats aplenty to keep the rodents in check, low, low ceiling, weighed down by towering bales of hay above, tiny windows so caked with dust and grim as to be no better than their stony frame, naked weathered beams and cobwebbed lights, split cedar rails and troughs for feed and water, low-pitched grunting and mournful lowing, and in summer’s heat the incessant buzz of flies, mingling sounds playing in my ears, new and foreign music as mysterious as the winds of Mars, a scent both musty and oppressive even gripped in winter’s chill, the acrid stink of pigs rooting in their trough and the cloying scent of cattle chewing cud, the mud the ever present dust and chaff, dim shadows made all the dimmer by having stepped from blazing sun, just enough light to see through filtering cracks in barn boards that served to slow, but not completely stop a summer storm or winter gale, above the great creaking doors that faced a gently sloping ramp to ease chugging tractors hauling laden wagons, inside a great roof held aloft by ancient beams with ropes suspended to swing into great mountains of prickly straw, the machinery, rust-covered tines of pitchforks, scythes and sickles, harrows and cultivators, manure spreaders and things of unknown purpose, and in the yard a muddy mired patch in which pigs would plough their noses and cows would plod about, while standing defiantly in the centre, a pump that needed to be primed from a bucket hung from the handle and brought up cold clear water from far below the filth in which it stood and nearby stood the drive-in shed, a simple covered structure to house the green J. Deere and the red M. Ferguson smelling of gasoline, diesel fuel and old motor oil that had soaked into to hard packed dirt of the floor and walls decorated with hubcaps, outdated license plates, shelves with assorted tools and spent shotgun shells.

It was a world apart, strange, exciting, mysterious and an education for this naive but infinitely curious city boy.

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