News and Tribune

September 3, 2013

CUMMINS: Where did the country boys go?

Local columnist

—  When I was a boy, my mother took me to town each August to buy new school clothes. New overalls are hot to wear when you go inside a stuffy school house to learn everything from books. It was not stuffy on the farm where I grew up. The sun was hot in a hayfield, but we didn’t mind. We had shade trees to rest under after loading a load of hay to store for winter’s time. It was hard work for a boy to do what a man did, but you wanted to be a man, so you did everything they did. That’s how you became a man by learning how to work.

Farm boys worked in the barns and fields as soon as they could lift a pitchfork of hay or hoe weeds between plants of corn. We learned how to drive a team of horses before we started school. It was the natural thing to do, a family living by making a living and pitching in together. That’s the way it was back when families depended on each member.

Each time I got to go to town, I wondered what the town boys did. I’d see them playing ball and mowing the yard, but it seemed they didn’t have much else to do. I had too much to do, but had a little time to wander around in the woods, down to the creeks and create my own things to do. Town boys wandered around the streets where people were and had somebody to talk to all the time. I envied them and wished I had it easy like they did. And yet, it seemed like they didn’t have the freedom I had. Although I spent many lonely times way back on the ridges, I had our farm animals and nature all around me. Talking to the horses and other animals is not the same, but when lonesome, I usually cheered up. I had solitary time to think about what I wanted to grow up to be. When you’re alone, there’s no one around to disturb your dreams about the good things to come.

In the country, boys learned responsibility. The family depended on you to carry your load at an early age, bringing in the cows from the field, carrying firewood to the back porch and picking blackberries to fill the fruit jars. There was always more than we could do, but we did what we could every day, and didn’t worry too much about it. Learning to work hard prepared you to do it all your life.

It was funny, though, when my kinfolks and their kids came to the old country home for a Sunday visit. They’d be in nice clean clothes, but I’d change that. The mothers of my cousins would be a little scared to let their sons go with me to the barns, creeks, ponds and ride our horses like cowboys did. I had so much to show them, I hardly knew where to start.

First, we’d head to the dairy barn loft and climb and roll over mounds of hay. Then we’d climb to the top of the silo, proving we weren’t afraid. We’d skip rocks over the pond on the way to tobacco barn. I’d show them how to cut a few trapeze shines climbing high up in the rafters where we hung tobacco to cure.

Instead of having a corn-cob fight, I’d say let’s get the horses and ride back on the range. Town kids weren’t used to horses and cows and they’d shy away from a hog pen with the mud, smell and grunts. Once I’d get them up on our horses, they’d act a little nervous, holding on for dear life. I’d stop at the best grapevine and show them how to swing way out over a deep ravine. It was funny the way they’d hold on for dear life.

I’d save the far pond for last where no one could see us, and we’d have a blue-mud fight. We’d take off our clothes, wade in and throw gobs of blue mud at each other. The good times pass, so we’d wash off the best we could and get back to a homemade freezer of ice cream. The mothers would be relieved, but then alarmed when they’d see the dried blue stuff caked in their son’s hair.

Every boy wants to become a man. Back in the old days, a country boy had a head start.

— Contact Terry Cummins at