Growing up country means to experience mud between your toes even while learning to walk. It means learning the hard way about thistles and poison ivy and roosters. Growing up country means finding ways to entertain yourself that don’t involve video games, shopping malls, television, or smartphones. It means learning to ride a horse so that you can go to your friends’ houses – five miles away.
Growing up country means having a family garden. It is the smell of fresh, vine ripened tomatoes when they are picked, the prickly, sticky feel of okra, the jerk of surprise when a tomato hornworm tries to stab you, and the little cuts on your hands from pulling weeds. It is the satisfaction of surveying a disastrously messy kitchen after canning 40 pints of green beans, 20 jars of salsa, and 30 jars of tomato juice … and counting. It's the sweet taste of wild strawberries.
Growing up country means being kissed by animals more than people. It means riding a horse before you can walk. It means watching birth and death, sometimes all at the same time, and learning to feel the sadness as well as the wonder of the miracle of life. Growing up country means collecting eggs, mushrooms, vegetables, and mosquito bites. It means milking a cow and experiencing what real, fresh, warm milk tastes like. It means learning how to work hard to raise your own food and realizing what real hard work feels like. It means county fairs and blue ribbons.
Growing up country means having stains and holes in most of your clothing. It is the stories told at suppertime about the goats touching the electric fence, the reason there are frogs jumping out of your pockets, the need for another new lariat (don’t ask why, please), and the crazy pack rat hunt that resulted in a small grass fire. Growing up country means your truck always has a new dent. And a great story to go along with it.
Growing up country means exercising with hay bales and horses. Trees make the best jungle gyms. Big dogs and wooly sheep make the best pillows. Animals are great to whisper secrets to, and they never, ever violate your trust in keeping those secrets.
Growing up country means helping deliver a baby calf via C-section, and learning the internal anatomy of a cow up close and personal. It means bottle feeding baby goats, watching chicks hatch, and cleaning up poop. Growing up country means learning how to shoot a bow and arrow and a gun … safely. It means learning how to drive a tractor long before ever learning how to drive a car.
Growing up country means having an immune system with the ability to fend off the plague … seriously. Mud masks are the result of an impromptu all-out mud-slinging war, not an expensive beauty treatment. Country girls wear fingernail polish to cover the dirt under their nails. True story. The word “hairstyle” is used very loosely and hats are an everyday accessory. There is simple joy in feeling the wind blow through your hair while riding in the back of a pickup truck.
Growing up country means falling down, getting hurt, dusting yourself off, and continuing on. It means working hard to complete a task, feeling the pride of accomplishment, and feeling the disappointing sting of failure. But trying again. And again. And again ….
In short, growing up country is a world of experiences that teach responsibility, wisdom and respect. Valuable lessons, taught by nature, animals and God. I don’t know anywhere else I would rather be.
Mosquitoes and all.
Best to experience it … Breathe it in.