Last week, we took a trip to Wallonia and I told you of my memories of my grandfather Pa Perry’s farm. Please allow me to make one correction and add a funny anecdote. My mother pointed out to me that the house that her parents, Early and Pansy Perry, lived in a house that did not have an upstairs. Now, the anecdote is this. Last week, I also talked about Big City Steve, my slightly older cousin who hailed from Louisville. If you remember, Big City Steve told on cousin Jay Witty for having his eyes open during the blessing. Well, my cousin Wendy Perry Futrell added an interesting detail to that story. You see, Big City had an intense love for fried chicken legs as a young boy. It seems that during that same blessing of the food, Big City Steve nabbed a chicken leg while everyone had their eyes closed. Big City was afraid there wouldn’t be enough to go around. Maybe that was why he was so concerned with Jay’s eyes being opened.
Let’s now turn our attention to farm work. Fast forward to 1973. I was 13 years old. That was the year that I began working on farms. My first job was hauling baled hay for Mr. Prentis Walker. Mr. Prentis left a lasting impression on me that will never fade. He was a carpenter by trade. The first thing I noticed was his handshake. Mr. Prentis’s handshake was as firm and strong as they came. The other thing about Mr. Prentis stood out the most, though. That was that he witnessed to all three of the teenagers helping him with his hay. I mean he shared the gospel, the plan of salvation, right there in the hayfield. Each and every time over the years that I would take a new guy to his hayfield, he would share the word. Amazing. My other memories of that first farm job 40 years ago is that Wildcat football player Randy Freeman was the older teen hauling that day. It made me feel big-time to be working with a varsity football player. The other memory is that I failed to get one bale of hay up on the wagon quick enough and the wagon ran over my foot. No problem there, we just kept on working. Little did I know the passion that I would develop for hauling hay.
From that point on, I hauled hay throughout my high school years. I was also introduced to a much more sinister job. That would be cutting and housing tobacco. Now, that one I was not so fond of, but I did it many, many times anyway. At age 15 or so, I was picked up by a farmer from Canton. I was to help house tobacco. Now remember, I had never done that. The first thing they told me to do was climb to the top of the barn and work the top tier. I thought, “Are you serious?” I knew my parents loved me, but did they realize what I was doing out here? I had to climb what seemed like 50 feet plus into the top of that barn and stand with my legs spread as far apart as I could get them while balancing myself on wobbly log tier poles. Then I had to let go of the beams above me to reach down and grab a stick with five stalks of tobacco on it and hang it above my head. Then I had to regulate the stalks and move forward because another stick was coming. You see, working the top of the barn, you only had to handle one out of every five stalks. It was supposed to be the easiest job, but for me working at that height canceled out that benefit. I soon learned to work the bottom tier. It was harder work because you had to handle every stick but I liked working closer to the ground.
After that experience, I went on to do the following with tobacco. I pulled plants, set it, suckered it, topped it, cut it, spiked it, loaded it, put it in the barn and stripped it. As a matter of fact, I did everything you can do with tobacco except smoke it. That I never did.
I have a few other tobacco memories that stand out. One is when my high school teammate Mike Morris’s dad Robert passed away. Coach Jim Wallace took our cross country team out to help him with his crop. We probably weren’t much help, but the effort was there. The same thing happened when Dixie Jones took the football staff out to help Stan Humphries when his dad Harold passed away. Another memory is when my dad, Gene, and I were going out one late summer day on a Thursday to fish a farmer’s pond out in rural Trigg County. We wanted to check in with the good farmer first. Well, we found him by himself in his tobacco patch, cutting his tobacco. We said hello and asked him again if it would be all right to fish his pond. He said sure, but he jokingly remarked that we could help him finish cutting and spiking his patch of tobacco first if we wanted to. We had actually already had that very thought when we first pulled into the field. Without hesitation, Dad and I fell in beside the farmer and helped him cut and spike the rest of his patch of tobacco. I think the farmer was amazed that we had done that. I was amazed at how good it felt to help him just for the sake of helping. Besides, we still had an hour or so of daylight left to fish.
You know, I think that is the reason I fell in love with farm work. It is the feeling you have at the end of the day. It is a strange sort of mixture of dirt, sweat and pride in an old-fashioned honest day’s hard work. I think Mr. Prentis would agree that a feeling like that never gets old.
OT: Part 3 next week includes Love and Tobacco and One Sick Dude.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.