Baxter Black: Grandpa’s Time
A friend and I were reminiscing about our old folks. Simple farmers. Life today is more complicated today, we observed, more stressful.
He talked about his Grandma keepin’ house in the hill country of Texas. Simple, he said. No electricity, no phone, a hand pump outside for water.
Saturday was wash day. A big kettle over an open fire, the men sliverin’ homemade lye soap for the kettle. Washin’ clothes in the boiling water and ringin’em out in the gas powered Maytag. Goin’ to church on Sunday. Grandpa choppin’ wood, doin’ chores, whackin’ cedar for spendin’ money.
I remember my Dad’s family. Milkin’, cannin’, choppin’ cotton. Grandma lived for 85 years in a house with no runnin’ water. Killin’ a chicken for Sunday dinner. Musicals anytime a fiddler rosined up. Plowin’ with a span of mules. Sellin’ eggs in town for pocket money.
Yeah, the good life.
I look around at the pressures of farming today and on the surface, it does seem more demanding. Government programs, environmental considerations, public land use, the EPA, unwanted horses and the I.R.S. Commitments to home, church, county and country, the Soil Conservation Service, the P.C.A., school board, Stockgrowers Assn., and the Fair Board. Kids with band practice, basketball practice, 4-H meetings, car payments and peer pressure. The constant barrage of national issues that the television insists we be concerned about!
But, do we really work harder and worry more than Grandpa did?
I ascribe to the Coyote Cowboy Proverb: “Be it work or worry, people expand to fill the vacuum.”
Does a family tryin’ to make a livin’ on 180 acres, work or worry less than the C.E.O. of General Motors? Does a migrant worker sleep any easier than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Does the editor/owner of a local newspaper put less effort into his job than the editor of the N.Y. Times?
I think it’s probably easier to raise twenty acres of corn today than it was in the old days. Just the hand labor alone would support my statement. But no modern farmer would raise only twenty acres of corn! He expands to fill the vacuum! Gotta justify the machinery!
But failure of the crop, regardless of size, kept Grandpa awake at night just like it does us.
So, was life less stressful in the good ol’ days? It’s hard to say.
Choppin’ wood to heat the house in 1935 required as many hours as it takes to raise the 100 extra acres we have to grow to pay the electric bill. It’s just that a tractor, a plow, a planter, and a combine cost more than an axe.