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Farming wasn’t Scouting, but it was close, if harder

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Boy Scouts are celebrating their centennial, and on a recent Sunday everyone in our church who has been involved in Scouting was asked to stand and be recognized.

Children stood. Adults stood. My wife stood. I kept my seat.

As a boy, I joined the Scouts, filled out the papers, promised not to cause too much trouble and began receiving Boys’ Life magazine (which I eagerly awaited each month) — but that’s as far as my Scouting career went.

The troop met in my elementary school, miles from the farm, so I couldn’t make the meetings. Signing up was as far as I got.

Farming is a 24/7 job, so my father had no time to drive me to meetings.

I couldn’t have gone anyway, because being a farmer’s son also is a 24/7 job, and though I can’t pretend to have labored like my parents, I would be a rich man today if they had paid me even minimum wage for the chores I did after school, on weekends and all summer long.

So, while my classmates were ordering their neat green shirts and neckerchiefs, I had my shirt tied around my waist in the hot sun as I helped my father and brothers string tight fences, plow straight furrows, dynamite ornery stumps, or harvest grain and pour it into big burlap sacks.

While the troop was practicing its animal-tracking lessons, I was running on dirty bare feet, herding cattle from one pasture to another, rounding up the strays and opening and shutting gates as I went; or plowing behind a cantankerous mule; or nursing a newborn pig with a baby bottle.

The Scouts tied knots and set up tents; I toiled in a vast field, baling hay and stacking the bales onto flatbed trucks and trailers, to be stowed in barns to last the winter. As the Scouts built their first campfire, I cleared brush from a pine thicket, helping burn great piles of limbs late into the night, tending the last embers until it was safe to trudge home, sooty and reeking of smoke, for a late-night supper and sound slumber.

As the Scouts roasted hot dogs and marshmallows on their hikes, I picked blackberries in syrup cans for fun and profit, milked our dairy cow, gorged on strawberries and watermelons from the garden, chased down a hen for supper, hunted rabbits and squirrels with my father, cracked open black walnuts and hickory nuts from the trees in our yard, dug sassafras roots for my mother’s spring tonic, cranked out homemade ice cream by hand, churned butter and seined the neighbor’s pond for fish.

While other boys in my class were sewing on merit badges, I was earning scars from stepping on rusty nails with bare feet; crawling under barbed-wire fences; falling out of trees; getting attacked by wasps, mama hens and angry bulls; bumping my head on the rafters of barns while stacking hay; and skinning knees every time I fell.

As the Scouts recited their oath, slogan and motto, I yelled from atop the nearby mountain, then waited for my echo, or dropped stones down the side and listened to them crack through the growth for an eternity. That’s where we’d go on a Saturday when no chores were urgent, climbing the steep incline, pulling our way up by grasping one tree and then the next, as though they were near-vertical monkey bars.

The Scouts had organized games and projects; our fun was random. We built treehouses and forts in the woods, caught tadpoles in the creek, stalked game with BB guns, swung on vines like Tarzan, shot bows and arrows made from saplings and weeds, swam in the cow pond, waged corn-cob fights with visiting children, smoked rabbit tobacco behind the barn and sneaked green peanuts from a neighbor’s patch.

I never got to be a Scout; nevertheless, I like to believe I was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Well, more often than not.

Reach Glynn Moore at glynn.moore@morris.com.



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