I grew up on a large dairy farm, the sixth of seven children, and the fourth girl. My time with Dad usually occurred working in the fields.
The first time I skipped school to help, I was about 10 years old. I had driven a tractor to pick up hay, but this was different. I would use the big tractor to pull the drag over the plowed furrows. Dad let me climb up and stand in front of him. He showed me how to hold the steering wheel straight, not giving in to furrows that tried to tip me one way or the other. Then he climbed off the tractor.
“OK, you can do it. Just keep it in third and go. Follow the edge of the rows I made. Don’t look behind you. Don’t turn the corners too sharp or the drag will come up on the tractor. I’ll be back in a little while.”
I was too short to reach the brake or clutch pedals, so Dad shifted the tractor into third gear and carefully let out the clutch. Away I went, hanging on for dear life. Dad left to get the planter from the barn, a few miles away.
Round and round I went. I loved the feeling of freedom and trust. My arms and backside ached, but I felt proud.
Dad caught up with me on the last row and pointed to where he wanted me to stop. He set the brakes, shifted into neutral, and shut off the tractor. He told me to get down.
He filled the planter compartments with corn seed. Then he attached a large oak plank behind the planter with small chains, making sure the board rested on the ground.
“What’s that for, Dad?”
“This plank flattens the soil and helps cover the seeds. You stand right here on the middle of the plank and hold on. Watch for seeds that aren’t covered. Jump off and cover them like this.” He shoved his big finger into the dirt, making a small hole, and dropped a kernel into it. He used his other fingers to smooth dirt over it. I think it took him about one second.
I tried. My little fingers didn’t do as well. So I used my big toe to push the kernel in and my hands to scoop dirt to cover it. Worked for me.
He stood me on the plank and said, “Iris, it’s a very important job you have. Only someone with good eyes and a real concern for farming can do it.”
I felt like a hero. I watched carefully, my head going back and forth from one end of the planted rows to the other. When I saw a kernel, I’d jump off, cover the seed, and climb back on the plank. He never slowed down. I had to catch up.
After a while, I’d yell, “No more corn.”
He’d stop, fill the planter, and we’d start again. About noon Mom brought potato salad, ham, and fresh milk. We stopped and ate our lunch sitting on the planter. We finished the field in time for evening chores.
About two weeks later, after a rainstorm, Dad took me to the field. To my amazement, tiny green plants had poked through the ground. Some had the kernel still attached to the stalk. He pointed out one kernel not covered with dirt.
“See why your job’s so important? This one won’t make it because you didn’t cover it.”
I felt my lower lip tremble. I blinked hard to keep back tears. Dad was disappointed with me. My pride and self-confidence tumbled.
He must have seen my face. “Next time, Iris, cover it a little deeper. Probably the rain washed the soil away. The birds will eat this one.”
A few evenings later, we went back to the same field. We stepped over several tiny rows and sat down.
“Now be real quiet,” Dad said, “and tell me what you hear.”
I listened, for what I did not know. Finally I whispered, “What was that?”
He laughed. “It’s corn growing.”
I looked at him, wondering if he was picking on me. But I heard it again and again, little scratching noises. I watched the tiny stalks. I’d hear the funny sound and see the corn jerk. Occasionally I’d hear a pop and a new plant would be sticking up. We sat there for several minutes until I knew for sure I had heard corn grow.
Imagine hearing and seeing something grow right before your eyes.
My father must have felt the same way about me. ❖
This article was published originally in 2018, in GreenPrints Issue #114.