Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

The John Deere Tractor: Remembering Childhood Visits to the Country

A photo of Shannon SaiaOne of the greatest things about the garden this year was how much it was able to take me back. Walking through the kitchen and being greeted by the smells of recently cooked bacon, and the still-lingering sweetness of cantaloupe instantly transported me back to my childhood, and summer visits to my grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. I only saw my grandparents every three years or so, but the memories of those visits stand out clearly in my mind and have both informed and encouraged my gardening and homesteading efforts over the past year.

Pop and Mama Re owned their farm for over 40 years, and for at least half of that time, encompassing my childhood, they worried that the highway would “take” their farm, which it eventually did. They lived west of Mississippi State University on Highway 82 in a house set about a quarter mile off the road at the end of a long, rock driveway. When I was very little Pop kept cows, and feeding them was always a big treat. But by the time I was in grade school, the big draw was the tractor – a huge old green John Deere that was kept in a graying barn on a hill near the orchard and overlooking the house and garden. Pop and Mama Re had a huge garden, with which they supplied all of their vegetable needs, and a “deep freeze” in which they stored them. Every summer visit included shucking corn, picking and then shelling or snapping beans, standing on a stool at the kitchen sink stirring the skins off of blanched tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Pop always took me out to pick wild blackberries so Mama Re could make them into a blackberry cobbler. I remember when Pop got a dehydrator. He dehydrated everything, and drove everyone crazy walking up to them and popping some highly concentrated flavor into their mouths.

We churned homemade ice cream, and went on walks through the property. Pop was never without a weapon for protection against wildcats and bears. We wore straw hats, long sleeves and long pants tucked into boots to keep the ticks off of us. We weren’t allowed to play back in those vast expanses of land behind the house, because people hunted deer on it. My grandfather himself did not hunt, but always maintained that the hunters would “burn him out” if he didn’t allow them to hunt on his property, a conjecture that always mystified me.

My first significant life decision was made on one of those visits. For much of my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian. One year Pop took us across the highway to visit his neighbor’s dairy. One of the cows there was pregnant, and the farmer asked me if I wanted to reach inside the cow to feel the baby calf. This was something that I just could not bring myself to do, and I experienced my first real disappointment in myself, at this deficit of courage, at my failure to meet my own expectations of myself. This disappointment was life-altering. After the incident I felt like I probably didn’t really have what it took to be a Vet, and the idea kind of slipped away, and I’ve regretted that lost opportunity ever since.

As an adult I’ve ushered at least four litters of puppies into the world. I experienced a natural, unmedicated childbirth. I’m not particularly squeamish. I’ve also come to realize things about life that I did not understand as a child; like that we can overcome our inhibitions; we can continue on in the face of fears and that most fears are the consequence of apprehension and are quickly dissipated by experience. If I had that moment of my life to live over again, I would sure put my hand inside that cow. But even if I didn’t; I wouldn’t let that single moment deviate me from a purpose that I had believed was mine for most of my thinking life.

I never imagined that I would grow up to be so much like Pop; that I would have so many similar interests; that, like him, I would be a bundle of energy and unable on most days to sit still, moving from one project – from one grand scheme – to the next.

When my husband and I were married in December 1994, it was already too late for us to share with one another some of the things that had made us what we are. I never got to take him to a Grateful Dead concert. He never got to take me to Sea King, his aunt and uncle’s seafood store which, for some years, was a Maryland landmark. Thankfully, I was able to take him to my grandparents’ farm – one time – before the highway “took it”. One of my husband’s sharpest memories of Pop was asking him what happened to his John Deere tractor. He sold it, Pop told him. When my husband asked him how much he got for it, Pop replied, “More than I deserved”.

Somehow I doubt that.

s.m.r. saia
1/27/2010 5:31:41 AM

Thanks Nebraska Dave!


nebraska dave
1/26/2010 5:27:43 PM

Shannon, rural farm memories are the greatest things that can be experienced as a kid. Mine started before I can even remember. My memories start at about 3 years old according to my mother. It was a memory of playing in the dirt under a porch on my parent’s farm. The space under the porch wasn’t more than a couple feet tall, but I had plenty of room to sit up and play. As I grew up, I always had it in mind that I would become a farmer as I loved the freedom to roam the woods and small creek that cut through the property. When we moved to the city, I spent summers on my Uncle’s farm and learned how to drive the 1949 John Deere tractor from the safety of my Uncle’s lap at the ripe old age of about 6 or 7 years old. By Junior High Dad let me farm the land where life’s memories started for me even though we lived some fifty miles away in the city. My tractor then was a 1929 Farmall with steel wheels. Let me tell you that wrestling one of those around a field all day will plum tucker a fella out. My dairy exposure came the last two years of high school when Dad once again bought a farm and a herd (12) of milk cows. I saw the Vet artificially inseminate our cows and I’m with you Shannon. I don’t think I want to put my hand in that place. I’ll just stick with milking them. All those memories only get more precious as time moves on.


s.m.r. saia
1/26/2010 4:26:20 PM

Cindy, Hank and Vickie, thanks so much for your kind comments and for sharing your thoughts and memories with me! Shannon


cindy murphy
1/26/2010 9:07:13 AM

Beautiful post, Shannon. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb by thinking nearly everyone has something in their past they wish they could do over again. Opportunities present themselves everyday. Sometimes we have to make quick on-the-spot decisions, such as your decision with the cow; other times we have time to mull it over, weighing the pros and cons before we make a choice. There is a quote from Henry Kissenger that reads "Accept everything about yourself - I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end - no apologies, no regrets." I don't necessarily agree with this. I think very few people go through life without having some kind of regret, even a small one. It's the first part of the quote that I like, and like it better if switched around. "Apologies or regrets - accept everything about yourself....you are you". Because in the end, we wouldn't be who we are today without having made the same decisions we made in the past.


hank will_2
1/26/2010 8:54:34 AM

Wonderful story, Shannon. Thanks for sharing it. My first farm tractor was a 1956 John Deere 720 Diesel. I loved that machine and spent untold hours making hay and cultivating with that thing. My youngest daughter Alaina helped me overhaul its engine one winter in our unheated South Dakota shop. We'd fire up an old diesel salamander heater and aim it at the parts we were going to work on to warm them sufficiently that our hands wouldn't freeze. I sold it in the late 1990s to a dentist who collected 2-cylinder JD tractors for more than I thought it could possibly be worth. I've wished that I didn't sell it a few times because of the memories it evokes -- but sometimes you just need the money. That was the only JD tractor I ever owned. I have had a number of IH machines though. Thanks again. Hank


vickie
1/25/2010 7:04:07 PM

Shannon, What wonderful memories you have of growing up -our lives take different paths sometimes then we think they should but we can't go back and in the end we find out that it's been- just as it should have been. vickie