|November 2, 2016
Hello again Maple People,
As I’ve shared with you before, when I was sixteen my father sold our dairy cows and decided to try his hand at diversified farming. Post dairy cows, our farm consisted of vegetable growing, beef cows and maple sugaring, all ventures that maximized labor and minimized income. I, possessor of both a strong enough back and weak enough mind to sign on, caught the brunt of both of those not-so-new aspects. Although I use “weak mind” largely with tongue in cheek, there have been times when I have questioned whether I should have agreed at all. Recently a tourist came up to me after one of my sugarhouse presentations and said, “Burr, you clearly love what you do.”, a statement, not a question, but, you know, I had to ponder it a few moments. When I finally answered, I said haltingly, “guess I love it…but sometimes with an attitude”. And that’s where the “weak mind” possibly comes in…I’ve spent my life dwelling on what I “should have done” rather than “what I did”. The fact is, I stayed on the farm because I held the farm in my heart.
I’m reminded of another recent sugarhouse guest who stopped to ask a few questions. “Ah’m from eastern TINNassee” the portly man said in a dialect as thick as Blue Ridge fog. He went on to say that he had been a rural mail carrier but had farm roots similar to my own. Much of his early farm tenure was, like my own, equally without pay, at least the monetary kind…”Ah’ll tayell ya, mah daddeh worked me t’death f’yeahs. Whinn ah asked him iff’n ah was gone git paid, he said this…’wayell son, yer eatin’ ain’t cha?'”. We both chuckled over our shared history and common knowledge that for a farm kid, food usually equals pay!
The man said later in his life, he adopted a particular lunchtime routine…”Whinn ah was a’carryin’ mail” he said, “ah wint t’Mamma’s house iver day at noont’eat”. He said that after doing this for years, a man from the neighborhood asked him if he might feel a bit guilty for spongin’ off his mamma like that. “No ah don’t” the Tennessee man replied…”ah’m still jist collectin’ mah salary”. And as a final punctuation that day, he told me with a wink, “that neighbah then looked down ovah mah considerable girth and said ‘wayell, they shoulda paid ya'”!
And so it goes, huge salaries are never a reason for working on a farm. We farm for other reasons; loyalty, sentimentality, and even mamma’s cookin’. Farming gives us high degrees in fixin’, cleanin’, and toleratin’, with a specialty in honor through daily lessons and tough tests. As for my youthful aspirations and attitudes, Quentin Crisp once summed it up very well: “It’s no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, ‘really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer’. By then, pigs’ll be your style.”. And to that, I say how right he was! Here at the sunset of my life I can honestly say “pigs’re my style” and I love it that way.