By most standards, I can be classified as a “small-town girl.” Despite the fact that I currently reside in a suburban setting with frequent (sometimes daily) trips into the urban center (of MN), my roots are definitely based in the “out-state” mentality.
As I mentioned in my first entry, my father was a man of business for work and a man of science (fiction) for leisure. While he wears business suits every day to work, his roots are, in fact, even more rural than mine. To put it simply, my dad was a farm-boy. Not like Wesley in Princess Bride. More like Little House on the Prairie. He met my suburb-raised mother in college. Although my mother grew up in “the Cities” as the daughter of a teacher and a housewife, her roots are in agriculture as well. In fact, all four of my grandparents were raised on farms in rural MN. What this all says about me, I’m not exactly sure. But it will help to explain the story I’m sharing now.
As I stated, I did not grow up in a city. Our residences were usually located in small communities of about 12,000 to 20,000 people, mostly in MN. These locations were usually convenient for visiting family, mostly grandparents. While my mother’s parents lived in the Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), my paternal grandfather was still on the farm. This always made for some interesting visits.
Every visit to my grandpa’s farm was always filled with new adventure. Some of them were magical and fascinating, and some were downright horror-movie material. I shall likely make more of these visits part of subsequent entries, but as I am in a “picking” sequence, I am going to share my brief foray into child-labor field work.
For true farm kids, chores and other assorted farm work are standard. I’m not sure what each and every job consists of, but if my family’s stories are any indication, it’s pretty rough. No sleeping in until noon on Saturdays and lots of lifting, hauling and getting dirty. This pretty much went against the grain of my habits as a child and teenager entirely. This is why it was important that I learned at an early age that it was not the life for me.
From time to time, my brother and I were sent to stay with our farm grandpa all by ourselves. While I’d like to think this was purely for the bonding experience, I also suspect that my parents needed a break from us for extended periods of time. Activities at the farm were somewhat limited compared to home. Translation: the TV did not work. We found other means of entertainment, such as playing with the old electric organ, chasing cats and eating crackers (my grandpa cannot cook to save his life).
One summer when I was about 6 and my brother was maybe 4, my father informed us that our upcoming trip was to include a special treat. If my father said that to me now, I would have conducted a detailed interrogation. At age 6, I was a bit more trusting.
Upon arrival, we were given the exciting news: we were going ROCK picking! I had never heard of this type of picking, but I imagined it to be something like raspberry picking where we would leisurely stroll around the farm looking for interesting stones to put in our bucket or wagon or whatever. I was intrigued.
Our uniform for this outing was a bit more stifling than I was expecting. Long jeans, long-sleeve shirt and old tennis shoes seemed a bit odd for a leisurely exercise. We followed my grandpa out to the barn where the tractors were kept. He told us to wait and returned shortly driving a tractor with a flat trailer tethered behind. After loading us on to the trailer, I was a little nervous. While I was always a fan of the tractor rides and even trailer rides, this seemed like a hefty setup for picking up pretty rocks.
Our ride took us out into a plowed field and then stopped. Grandpa descended from the tractor and helped us off the trailer. By this point, I believe that my uncle had joined us in the field. The adults then began their demonstration of actual rock picking. To my dismay, this translated to my uncle dislodging large boulders from the earth and handing them to us for placement onto the flat trailer while my grandfather drove the tractor at a speed close to molasses.
From that point onward, the afternoon was a hot and grainy blur of boredom, anger and heat exhaustion. If anyone thought to bring water or snacks, it might have been bearable. But apparently 4 and 6 year old farm kids are tougher than that. I was not.
Looking back, I’m not sure why exactly my grandpa thought that such young children would be any actual help as our puny arms could not lift most of the rocks that we found. I imagine that he saw it as an act of character building that would benefit us in the long-run. Or he just thought it would be really funny. My grandpa has a weird sense of humor sometimes.
After our long day in the fields, we returned to the house. We were immediately whisked off to the bathroom for clean-up, but we did manage a good look in the mirror before the bathing commenced. It was a horrific yet mesmerizing sight. Dirt and dust had filled in every single line and crevice of our exposed skin, mainly on our faces. I really wish someone had thought to take a picture. After we were thoroughly scrubbed and our scalps scoured with what felt like steel wool, we were allowed to rest. I’m sure we slept VERY well that night.
Oddly, we were never taken out rock picking ever again in our childhood. Nor have we been asked to help now that we are capable adults. The motive and purpose for this one time event remains a mystery. I know that the process still happens and that my younger cousins have assisted many times. My only conclusion is that it was an attempt to give my brother and I some farm/street credibility. I will therefore wear this accomplishment as a badge of honor for proof that I am not just some wussy city girl. In case anyone ever asks.