Wednesday, May 2, 2012
You may not know it, but I grew up country. Not country like, my family tree don’t fork, kind of country. LOL! Not a house per acre in a subdivision kind of country (although there are a lot of great rural folk usually living in these areas). But a down-home, proud-to-be-an-American, from the heartland, own a pickup truck cause a car won’t make it down your road, don’t need any bureaucrat telling you what to do, raise your own food, cowboy hat wearing (to keep the sun off), raising cows, horses, chickens, goats, hogs, dogs and even cats (for chasing mice) kind of country! You know what I mean – COUNTRY!
The half-horse town nearest to where I grew up was about two miles distant. It consisted of a Baptist church, about five homes, an old store (closed), a vacant cotton gin and a vacant feed yard. I caught the school bus there. At various times I arrived at said bus stop by means of walking, riding a bike, a-horseback or driving depending upon what was available and general weather conditions throughout the seasons.
The next town of any significance was another ten miles and consisted of a school (K-12), three churches, a store/post office combination and about a dozen houses (this is where I went to school). I had to ride the bus for an hour, traveling from farm to ranch, in order for it to pick up enough kids to make a load. Basketball was the only sport available for boys to play because you needed five people to make up a team (one or two subs were nice) and that was about all we had in the athletics program. FFA was required curriculum. There were only about eight to ten kids in my grade each year.
The town we considered “town” was about fifteen miles the other direction and had 12,000 inhabitants at the time. I say 12,000 because that’s what the sign at the city limits claimed – “Welcome to Portales, New Mexico. A town of 12,000 friendly people…and 3 or 4 old grouches.” People had a lot of fun with that sign, and from time to time, vandals would change the “3 or 4 old grouches” to various other sayings…but it was usually in good fun. The sign was right however, there were (and still are) a lot of friendly people in that part of the world. I think it’s because they are mostly a rural, agricultural type area. As a matter of fact, the prosperity of local business owners was tied (in one way or another) to commodity prices.
Because of my upbringing, I gained unique and useful knowledge such as what it’s like to milk a cow, by hand, at 4:30 am, then again that evening - taught me about regularity and responsibility. I know how to butcher a chicken and pluck feathers from the warm bird, while it’s still twitching and flopping around. I know what it’s like to mend fence in 100 degree weather, assist an animal with birthing, hang wet clothes on the line in a steady wind, tromp in muck up to your knees to doctor a sick animal during a storm, get bucked off in a sticker patch, be kicked by a horse or cow protecting their “personal space,” hooked by a bull (whose “personal space” is usually much larger), how to entertain yourself without the aide of “electronic gadgets,” dress in layers so you can bear being outside in a day that starts off in the 30s at daybreak and winds up in the 80’s by afternoon, be both wind-burned and sunburned from working outside all day. I know all that and more…and I love it.
I love it because I also know what it’s like to see mountain views ten, twenty or even fifty miles off on a clear day. I know what it’s like to stare up at the stars with an unobstructed view while hearing a cricket chirp a half-mile off on a clear, still night. I know what it’s like to have a special bond with animals - even if you plan to eat them later, the sight of a colt taking its first suckle, what it’s like to actually know your neighbors, the feeling of independence you get surviving in the country, the pride of raising your own food and yes, me being a male, the freedom to leave my house in any direction and being able to “do my business” outdoors…with worrying about whose around.
Things weren’t always easy growing up this way. Being poor and rural, you had to be tough to survive. If you have ever chopped your own wood because it’s your only source of heat, had to gather a meal before eating it, lived in a house where you could see your breath in the un-heated bedrooms during winter, cut weeds in a farm field for minimum wage daylight till dark on a hot summer day, spent a full day in the saddle (working – not pleasure riding), had blisters on your hands, or had to choose between buying gas or groceries with your last twenty dollars because the “harvest check” is not in yet, then you know what I’m talking about.
Growing up country taught me many things. It’s a way of life like no other and I’m glad for it. I learned things like why it’s important to respect God and country, the true value of a dollar (one you earned yourself), how to be responsible (not only for yourself but for animals and others), how to be independent, to really appreciate and respect nature, to work hard, to speak another language (Spanish), to change my own tires, fix a vehicle good enough to get back home with bailing wire and duct tape, basic veterinary skills, to be diplomatic when dealing with animals and people, horticulture and the difference between beast of burden, meat animals and pets (and know they all have their own special place in the world), the value of a friend you could count on when you really need a hand, and, well, you get the picture.
I have a lot of fond memories of grow up this way. If you have ever “bobbed for apples” at a “ Country Jamboree,” rolled your bedroll out and slept under the stars, known the satisfaction of doing a job few others could, watched an animal being born, smelled fresh-cut hay, danced a jig in the high school gymnasium at the yearly social, seen a sunrise or sunset a-horseback with no obstructions around, eaten “rocky mountain oysters” over a branding fire or a tomato fresh off the vine, spent a Saturday night riding around in a four-wheel drive with a twelve pack and a spot light and thought it was the time of your life, listened to the same Chris Ledoux tape over and over on the way to a rodeo in the middle of nowhere, ate the best food ever at a “potluck” gathering, or if you have ever tasted home-made ice cream, made with cream you personally strained from milk, gotten by hand, from your own cow, then you know what I’m talking about.
A lot of folks think that growing up country is a handicap, but pardner, I’m here to tell you, it’s not! Great men like Abraham Lincoln grew up very country (and poor). Dale Carnegie, arguably one of the greatest writers and speakers of the 20th century grew up on a farm in Missouri. Canadian songstress, Shania Twain, grew up with nothing, in the rugged wilderness near Timmins, Ontario. As a boy, Johnny Cash worked along side his family in Arkansas cotton fields. Writer, Max Evans, once trailed a herd of horses, with only one other man for help, from Jal, New Mexico to Guymon, Oklahoma when he was a young boy. They later made movies from books he’d written about his experiences! There are thousands of other examples; I could go on and on about great folk (both well-known and unknown) who were raised “country.”
Personally, I wear “growing up country,” like a badge of honor. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Jim Olson © 2012