As the body grows older the mind seems to spend more time wandering back in time. I believe that during my childhood I felt that life was rather dull, but looking back on those years, the feeling is altogether different.
I can remember the early days in school, when I would sit in my desk and look fondly out the windows at the lush green pasture fields and large sections of cropland. I don’t remember a lot of what I was supposed to be learning in class, but I still remember watching the farmers walking along behind their horses, guiding their plows that turned over rich brown soil. Sometimes they would begin in the middle of a field and plow toward the sides, and sometimes they made long trips around the outside first. My favorite was the latter, because each trip around made the field a little smaller, and putting me nearer to finishing the task.
From that classroom seat, I followed the farmer’s progress, from the initial turning of the soil, through harrowing and dragging, to the planting of the seed. I learned to appreciate the labor of the farmer, even though I never knew his name, or what he looked like up close. I guess that is why I was happy, when at an early age I learned that my family would be moving to a farm. I have done many types of work since that time, but nothing brought the satisfaction and contentment that the farm did.
Every little detail comes back as I think of those days, from going out on cool summer mornings and picking dewberries, to helping my father saw wood on a cool fall afternoon with a crosscut saw. The plump ripe berries of summer tasted mighty good at the end of a long day in the tobacco fields, especially when made into a large sweet and tasty berry roll, swimming in a thick syrup made pink in color by the juicy berries, and made only as my mother could make them.
And I can remember working in the tobacco fields with my brothers, hoeing each individual plant, and occasionally digging out a perfectly shaped Indian arrowhead. The long days passed fast, as we told wild tales of imaginative adventures just as though things we told about really happened. Or we would sometimes sing songs that we made up as we worked the long rows of tobacco. We had no idea at the time that we were producing a crop that might cause cancer. I doubt if the average tobacco farmer knew what cancer was. It seemed like people never got sick in those days. It was a time of hard work and hard play. And speaking of play, the games, however simple, were plate with great competitiveness. Even today I have a hard time accepting defeat, whether it be my Hokies or Patriots, or just a friendly game of rook at home. I suppose it runs in my family, because one of my wife’s favorite lines was, "Those Mathews really hate to lose."
I believe farmers have it easier these days. I can remember how we used to hoe corn. We had to work around each stalk at least one time each year, and plow between the rows several times. Then it was hand harvested, cutting off a stalk at a time, putting it in shocks in the field; then on cold winter days we went to the field and shucked out the ears, before hauling both ears and fodder to the barn.
On very special days we would load corn on a mule drawn wagon and make the exciting trip to the water powered mill where it was ground into corn meal and chicken feed.
I know I can never go back to any of the things I have mentioned happening all those years ago, but reminiscing creates pleasant dreams of a time when everything moved at a slower pace. A good time to have lived.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.