John lay comfortably in the grass watching clouds dance and swirl around a clear blue expanse. No matter which way he turned it seemed a strong breeze caressing his face was playing its game with those clouds. He wondered what it would be like to fly up and join them in their dance. The birds calling happily while they rode the breeze above him obviously enjoyed their experience and he watched them enviously.
An itch on his back caused him to sit up suddenly. He’d chosen to lie down on an ant path and they were giving him a gentle reminder he was obstructing their progress gathering food for their nest. John grunted and moved away to the right watching ants reform and continue their march. He wished they’d spoken to him rather than biting to get his attention.
The ants progress reminded him of why his body was aching with fatigue. He’d been helping the family harvest vegetables all morning. It was back breaking work. At age ten he knew how his body reacted after bending hour after hour and wondered why his Mom and Dad didn’t complain. They stoically plodded on row after row picking the choicest of those long green vegetables. He’d munched sufficient of the tender ones as he picked and was reminded of that exercise by the pain in his stomach from eating too much out of boredom.
And as if that were not enough he had to help as they crated and nailed down produce to be sent to the capital city several hours travel by truck. Their future hung on bidding by shopkeepers and hotels at the wholesale market next day. Evenings before shutting down the diesel motor providing electricity they’d listen anxiously as reports from the market were streamed in by radio.
The packing shed was a place of wonder and fear. Hanging on walls and stored in corners were reminders of farming in a past era. That was the time when horses and bullocks were transportation of the day. They’d been replaced by a shiny tractor and its implements sitting proudly to the side but scattered around the farm sitting rotting were further equipment reminders of the old days.
Fear in the packing shed was from a resident diamond snake which favoured one of the cross beams inside the roof structure. It was a beautiful creature, long fat and strong. Its head swayed and swivelled as it watched activities going on below. When they’d first moved onto the farm John had refused to enter the shed. Would it swallow him? His father had laughed and moved around the shed fearlessly so gradually John plucked up courage to follow. But he kept a wary eye on the reptile all the time he was in that shed.
The diamond snake was of great benefit and encouraged to continue residence. Now and then John would enter the shed and note a bulge or two on that glorious creature’s body. Diamond had been doing its work keeping rodents away from stored grain and other crops. Those brave enough to venture in would become a welcome meal.
John stood up slowly and stretched. The ache in his back reminded him of the work he’d done on this holiday. He wished the country school were not on vacation so he’d have had an excuse to miss out on harvest.
School time he’d miss chores milking the herd with his family in the morning as he had to walk five miles to a country school, but evenings he was expected to help. His father had taught him how to start the diesel motor providing vacuum for the milking process, but it was hard to turn the wheel that started it. His father would watch his son and when necessary take over when his son’s energy level was not sufficient to complete the task. Farming was a tough business and his son would need to learn the ropes early.
John remembered one evening when his prowess at firing up the sterilizing boiler was put to the test. The wood was wet and would not take fire. After using up most of the newspaper start up fire material John remembered one evening when wet wood needed much greater help. He and his siblings gathered in front of the boiler to see how it worked when gasoline was poured over wet wood. There was a giant explosion and fire shot out of the vent singing skin, hair and eyebrows. His parents were angry, they could all have been blinded!
John sighed as he remembered the embarrassment felt. He turned to look toward the second hill as their cattle dog was bringing the herd in for milking, it would soon be time for him to head down to milking shed and help with the herd. He glanced up the hill and saw his Mom moving around fields examining mushrooms. Mushrooms for supper this evening. His mouth watered at the thought.
Then he made his way downhill to join his Dad. While there was not much fun cleaning up after milking it was fun after the vacuum cups had extracted milk from each cow to take a bucket and strip remaining milk not taken to central storage by vacuum tubes. Cats would sit expectantly waiting for him to squirt an occasional stream in their direction to be gratefully lapped up. Then there was an added pleasure streaming one at his brother when his Dad was not looking. Of course, small brother also knew how to play that game so he had to be alert. Cleaning up afterward was not on his most favourable task list.
John shrugged and made his way toward the milking shed. Afterward he could be assured of one of his Mom’s tasty meals, then they’d all sit around the radio on this vacation evening, listen to the reports on today’s markets and end the evening listening to his favourite radio program.
He glanced at the sky again as the sun set and saw beginnings of another glorious country sunset. He nodded happily, his aches of the morning forgotten now. Life on the farm was not so bad after all.
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