When I think back to summers as a boy, I remember a farm pond with a legendary stock of crappie, working a roughly one-acre garden, campfires out by the tractor barn, riding horses through the “motherland” to watch the sun set with my dad, and waking up of a morning to roam the family acres in whatever way my brothers and I could imagine. Horizon to horizon, shared with my best friends and thousands of head of cattle.
We’d get chewed on good – and rightfully so – for running cattle or messing around in crop fields. And our parents warned us of numerous dangers. But generally, we were left to our own devices and could venture as far as you could see in any direction, our canvas for testing the laws of nature.
I learned what a rope burn was descending the hayloft when my brother Andy jumped on top and came along for the ride. I also learned to respect just how tough and strong Andy was watching him ride a rank horse, Bucky (appropriately named), through a thicket – and ride him to a standstill.
From my brother Josh, I learned patience. Not many youngsters could sit for hours at a pond waiting for fish to start biting. Not many youngsters can walk for days with a shotgun without seeing much. Watching my older brother, I had no choice. He taught me to appreciate hunting and fishing, hobbies I still love to this day.
And when our older half brother, Danny, came out to the farm, it was full-blown go-time. Mom and Dad let us off the hook for the most part, and we could let loose, chore responsibilities and work largely ignored.
However, most days did involve work, although we didn’t have to milk cows or do many of the other traditional farm tasks. Our chores consisted of cleaning cockleburs out of the horses’ manes (dreaded, tedious work), dealing with firewood, mowing the huge yard, harvesting fruit in the orchard, and helping work that large garden.
My most dreaded garden task was picking green beans. We had beans for miles – the amount of which time has no doubt helped to exaggerate – which my mom canned to last throughout the year. We spent hours stooped over the bush bean plants, getting stung on our hands, working down the rows, and standing up every few minutes to straighten our backs.
Then we’d get to snap them sitting in the lawn chair beside Mom, which was – and still is – the best part of the chore.
Beans added so much to our garden, and are still one of my favorite garden crops to this day. Check out Page 13 of the June issue of GRIT Country, “All About Growing Beans,” and add hours of fun and fulfillment to your backyard growing space.
Campfire cooking – be it a wienie roast or a mess of crappie in a cast-iron pan – was another staple of summer, the part of the day when you knew the work was finished and Mom’s baked beans were warming in a pot. Take outdoor cooking to a whole new level after reading “DIY Wood-Fired Outdoor Cooker” on Page 7. These plans require some construction skill, but if you’re feeling up to taking on a summer project, this one is as worthy as any, and it will enhance suppers in all seasons.
And finally, one of my favorite recently read articles, Karen Keb’s “Keep a Family Milk Cow” breaks down what a milk cow actually produces for your family – how much money it saves – and details how to go about raising one. It doesn’t get any more Grit-ty than that.
Enjoy, and if there’s anything you’d like to see in particular, send an email my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until our paths cross again,
Caleb D. Regan
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.