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Voyageur's Best Features of 2006

Summer on the farm

Summer on the farm with Grandpa
The five things that make a summer vacation worth having: a straw hat, a pocket knife, .22 shells, a farm to run around on, and a great Grandpa to walk behind
by Jerome Little  |  April 18, 2006

The smell of spring is in the air and the sense of smell is one of the strongest stimuli of memory there is. I have broached this subject more than once before, but again I am visiting the days of my youth. Or as Joe Pesci would say, ‘Yoot.’

I am again drifting off to the summer on my Grandpa’s farm. I guess now that I live in the country, the smells of the newly uncovered earth remind me of my days following him around. I had a great Grandpa. I mean he was a great guy, not my great-grandpa. Oh I had a couple of those too, but I don’t remember them. But I sure do remember Grandpa. Soon after school let out I would arrive on his doorstep, or in his barnyard as the case may be. It always seemed this was one of Mom and Dad’s shorter visits and they always seemed eager to get on their way.

“Well son, have a wonderful time, stay away from the machinery and out of the hog pen and we’ll pick you up sometime. Off they’d go leaving me alone with a great sense of anticipation of the summer to come. I looked forward to riding the back of Grandpa’s tractor and tracing his footsteps as he did chores. Life was an adventure, and I was right in the middle of it.

Now every summer on the old place started pretty much the same way. Grandpa told me what I could and could not get into, knowing full well it sailed through my cranial cavity like the morning mail express out of Staples. Ground rules were laid and production was gotten on with. First order of business was on the next trip into town, Grandpa picked up my farm survival kit.

Now this wasn’t a survival kit in the sense one may perish without it. It was in fact a three piece assortment which somewhat guaranteed I would mostly stay out of his hair when not actually working. The kit consisted of the following.

1. One ‘yoot’ size straw hat, complete with hat band and maybe even the clear green plastic sun shield at the front of the brim.

2. One two blade jackknife. Non-locking variety. (More about this later.)

3. One fifty cent box of .22 shells.

The straw hat was the insignia of a real farmer in those days. A baseball cap just didn’t cut the mustard, nor did any other city slicker kind of headwear. It had to be a real, bought in the feed store, yellow straw hat. Grandpa usually got pretty close to the right size too, he was good at that. Lucky for me, too, because these hats didn’t have any fancy Velcro adjuster in the back. Velcro was a thing of the future. I would strut around the yard like a prize rooster trying to impress a passel of hens, so proud of my country-ness. Yes sir, all I had to do is roll in the cow patties and the ensemble would have been complete. I never did get farm boots though, I was always marked as rank rookie by my tennis shoes.

The next item was the jackknife. I could not be caught imitating a farm hand without a trusty Barlow or similar cutlery item in my pocket. The brand didn‘t really matter, just as long as it could whittle. Not only was this tool used extensively for cutting hay bale twine and a myriad of other tasks from screw driving to ad hoc veterinarian’s tool, it could put a point on any stick. That seemed to be my secondary job on the farm, to whittle points on every loose piece of wood on the place. I always had grand imaginations for what I was about to carve with my knife, but always wound up with a pointed stick and a pile of shavings. The knife came with a box of band aids, which Grandpa gave to Grandma for keeping until needed. This was usually within the half hour after receiving the knife. I never seemed to catch on to the fact you couldn’t bore holes with a pocket knife with out it eventually folding up on your fingers. I could kiss the inventor of the lock back knife, as I still bore holes with knives.

The last item was the .22 shells. Grandpa had an old bolt action, single shot .22 rifle, and I got to use it all summer. The only reason my Dad allowed this was that he was going to be several hundred miles away while I was thus armed. Every spring I got a new box of fifty .22 long rifle cartridges, which were to last the length of the visit. I was lucky if they made the first week. Well, I had to get used to shooting all over again, didn’t I? After all, it had been a whole year, and the sights may have changed a little. In his wisdom, Grandpa made me wait at least a week after I shot the last shell to renew the supply. Going a week without plinking was pure heck for a nine-year-old. The second box was spent more prudently.

By the end of the summer I would be ready to return home, having worn out my welcome, my Grandparents and most of the animals. Even the dog was glad to see me go. No amount of Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies could pay back what I put ol’ Shep through.

With tattered straw hat in hands layered with band aids,  I would shake Grandpa’s hand, promise to be good and come back next year.

My Grandpa has long left this world to be with the Lord, but this spring I got one of the best surprises ever. My brother sent me a photo of Grandpa’s old 1938 Model B John Deere tractor, which one of my cousins had completely restored. Memories came flooding back of standing behind my Grandpa, hands on the seat and feet on the tow bar, off on another important farm job. That was the greatest time ever, and my cousin promised me that I would be able to drive that tractor this summer. I look forward to doing that very much, but it still won’t surpass the thrill of being in Grandpa’s shadow when he was at the wheel. See you around.

This article first appeared in the April 18 issue of the Voyageur Press.