Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!
X is for Xavier Road – Living the Good Life?
Growing up on a farm in north central Kansas in the 1950s, my life was a kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions. One of my favorite places to be, in good weather, was up on the very top of the bluffs behind our home. Formed by long ago glacier activity, these hills were a playground for me and my siblings, a pasture for our cattle and horses, and in some instances, a great place to sit and reflect on our lives and dreams.
My dad believed in everyone pulling their fair share of the load, from the time we were in school, until the day we left home as adults, we had our chores to do. We fed and watered cattle, hogs, horses, and sometimes chickens.
We quickly learned not to let the hose spray water on the pigs’ ears, because then they would flap those ears back and forth to get rid of the water that trickled down inside their ears. The muddy water, feces, and odorous dirt would fly into our eyes, ears, hair, and even our mouths if they were open. It was horrid, and required a complete shower before we could enter the house.
We carried buckets of grain and slop, (a mixture of garbage, water, and grain) to pour into long troughs for the hogs to eat. We had to run fast with the buckets, because once the hogs saw them, they would run after us, and would pin us against the troughs trying to get at the treats we carried.
The cattle were fed bales of hay, which my sister and I carried from the barn to the long hay feeding troughs. During the winter months, sometimes we were carrying the hay up a very icy slope. It would have been great to have had knee pads and pads on our backsides, as we landed quite often and hard.
One of my favorite jobs (NOT) was to muck out the hog pen. My dad would use the front end loader on the tractor to scoop the mud/feces/urine up from the pig lot. My sister and I were assigned the odious job of scooping the corners of the pig lot into the loader with shovels and spades and pitchforks. I lost more boots in the quick sand-like muck. Sometimes we wound up sitting down in that slop, again requiring a bath before entering the house when we were done for the day.
I think my absolute least favorite job was to crawl inside the grain dryer and scoop out the corn that did not drop from the inside of the dryer at the end of the season. The corn smelled fermented, and there were maggots crawling around in the corn. We used sticks and twigs to push the rotted corn through the holes in the bottom of the dryer. I was so glad when I grew too large to crawl inside the dryer. I think that dryer was the reason I became claustrophobic, and to this day cannot stand the thought of being enclosed in small tight places.
During the summer, we were given machetes and corn knives and sent out to the outer regions of the farm to chop weeds and thistles. This was hot and dirty work. I had allergies and hay fever, so much of my time was spent scratching and sneezing. One of the ways my parents kept us in line was to threaten to send us out to chop weeds in the summer time. “If you’ve got so much energy to fight with each other, go chop weeds for an hour.” We usually stopped fighting immediately.
Chopping thistles was painful, the plants had sharp barbs, which scratched and poked us when we tried to grab the stalk. We had to chop off the heads, put those in a can, chop the stalk down and put those in buckets, and then dig out the roots, also to go into another bucket. Our dad disposed of the buckets of thistles.
My dad was a hoarder of iron. He had tons of old iron tools, equipment, implements, and automobile parts stacked in piles around the property. When the weeds grew up through the iron, he would have us move the iron to another clean spot, so he could mow. We carried the iron, steaming hot from the sun, with gloves on, but still managed to cut our legs and hands.
Not everything was hard or bad on the farm, though. We always ate very well. Mama was an excellent cook. People would always ask for her sticky buns and fruit pies. Her homemade chicken and noodles was a staple at family gatherings.
She was good at sewing also. She made most of our clothing, and we wore a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins. At Christmas, we might get a new blouse or jeans that were store-bought. Oh, we were in hog heaven!
She always raised a garden, and we helped weed and water it. One afternoon, we were weeding in the strawberry patch, and heard a loud hissing sound. We looked behind us and found a huge bull snake coming our way. That snake was furious and coiled up to strike. Mama sent us into the house, and stood her ground against the snake. That snake didn’t have a chance. With just a few well-aimed strikes, she removed the snake’s head. She used her hoe to pick up the rest of the snake and hurled it outside of the garden. We don’t know what riled the snake, but it wasn’t going to strike at anyone else ever again.
Since our house was right beside the bluffs, we often had uninvited visitors. Snakes, scorpions, spiders, fire ants, and every other variety of creepy-crawlies tried to share our home. I remember falling asleep at night counting the spiders on the ceiling.
My brothers and my sister and I loved riding bicycles on the gravel road at the end of our drive. We would ride in precision drills, making figure eights over and over. Many visiting kids tried to ride fast down the hill to our driveway. Many of them crashed. The steep incline of the hill, combined with loose gravel, caused a lot of wrecks. Thankfully, no one was ever seriously injured.
Our pasture held a lot of mysteries for us. We went sledding down the hill in the winter, we hiked and explored the various ravines in the summer. There was a natural spring in one of them. The water wasn’t that good to drink, though. It ran through a lot of clay, so it was rather muddy. We found arrowheads and fossils, and rocks with Indian carvings in that ravine. There was one huge fossilized rock where we each carved our name and the date, I think it was 1958. That rock is still there today, but the carving has pretty much eroded away as has the fossil images. One winter, some high school boys asked permission to create a sled run down the hill near that ravine. The snow that year had been very deep, with some drifts over 20 feet deep. The boys worked and worked, and came to use it a couple of times. The temperatures stayed cold, so the snow remained there for weeks. My mom suggested that we invited some friends over for a sledding party. So I got on the phone, invited a lot of friends, and told them to invite more friends. We had almost 75 kids and adults sledding down that hill that day. Everyone was having a great time. Then my dad came and said that my mom had refreshments at the house for anyone who wanted them. She had made cookies and cocoa. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.
I look back on my life on the farm with mixed feelings. There were bad experiences, of course, with all the dirty work we had to do, and some bad storms that scared the living daylights out of us. But as I grow older, I remember a lot of good times. We had privacy. We could sunbathe outside without nosy neighbors trying to steal a peek. We had good food. We learned about life, from watching the animals, we learned about teamwork, and we shared a love of family that we still share today. My dad is now gone, but his legacy of thriftiness is instilled in all of us. My mom still lives there alone, with my brother checking on her daily. Would I go back to live there? Probably not. I’m not that fond of snakes, spiders, and scorpions.
But I survived Xavier Road.
Dixie Barnes began writing when she, at ten years old, wrote her first short story. Her passions: a love of writing, art, crafts, family, two shih tzu dogs, and jobs. At this time, she is between jobs, but looking for part time work. She worked as a nurse for over 23 years, but has recently retired from that career. She draws on her life experiences to create her characters and stories. She writes poetry, essays, journaling, fiction, and has three novels in varying stages of completion. She has been a mentor in the F2K course at Writer’s Village University.