Friday, April 27, 2012

You Can Take the Boy Off the Farm...

You can take the boy off the farm
But you can't take the farm out of the boy!

The US Department of Labor has drawn quite a bit of fire recently by proposing that child labor laws apply to farm kids as well as their city cousins.  Farmers and farm kids were equally enraged by this intrusion.  Under the proposal, since withdrawn, farm children under the age of 18 would be forbidden from performing a long list of chores on their families' land.  Under the rules, most children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”

“Prohibited places of employment,” a Department press release read, “would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.” The new regulations would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.

As someone who has been there and done that I also find myself enraged. 

I grew up on a farm -- not a livestock farm, but a dirt farm.  Our main crop was tobacco, a labor intensive crop and one requiring a great deal of detailed hand work.  Like most of my rural chums, I had chores. When I was very young, these included keeping the woodbox behind the kitchen stove full.  When I got older, I also became responsible for chopping the wood with which I filled the woodbox. With an ax!

I learned to drive on a John Deere model B tractor at age ten, and from age eleven on, I spent summers in the fields and tobacco barns with my Dad and Grand Dad, making the new crop and preparing the old for market.

I can truthfully state that at age 12 I would have welcomed imposition of the child labor laws.  Looking back now, I find myself glad that they didn't apply. Working on the family farm did much to set my world view and make me into the man I am today.

Growing up on the farm impressed on me the truth of the words "If a man does not work, neither should he eat."  It also impressed me with the absolute miracle of being obtain food from the ground.  But before the food could be harvested, it had to be planted (at the proper time), cultivated, and then harvested (again, at the proper time) and then stored.  And the farmer was wholly responsible for getting the work done at the proper time.

Growing up on the farm taught me self reliance.  We ate what we grew and stored.  If we wanted more, we grew more.  If we wanted less, we grew less. Whether we grew more or less, what we had depended on what we did. I still look on life with the idea that the outcomes I get depend on what I, and not on what  somebody else, might happen to do.

Growing up on the farm taught me independence.  Our farm operated independently from the farms around us.

Growing up on the farm also taught me interdependence and the value of being a good neighbor.  In out community neighbors got together to help each other at harvest time or on major tasks.

Butchering in the fall was closely coordinated to ensure that the meat could be processed and stored in the limited time before it spoiled.  So, Uncle Tal would butcher this week, and Cousin Junior next and Mr. Day the week following.  It all worked together and it all got done.

That way of life has largely disappeared from the area where I grew up, and I miss it.  When my children were growing up, I had to find other ways to teach responsibility, self reliance, and independence without the farm experience.  Somehow, I feel that they may have missed out on something valuable.

To the US Department of Labor, I say, "Leave the family farm alone.  The lessons learned there loom large in our national character and should be reinforced rather than diminished."

To the family farmer of today I say "Keep on keeping on. What you're doing is right and good and needs to be passed on to the next generation.

And to you all, I say "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy!"

What parts of your early life were most influential in shaping your character?

What are you doing to pass those values and life lessons on to your children and grand children?

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I have a confession to make.

Sometimes, I really don't want to sit down and write this blog.

Sometimes, there are better or more important things than sitting at the keyboard and pounding out lines of deathless prose.

Sometimes, those things disappear if not done at the moment.

This weekend was one of those times.  The weather was gorgeous, the grass was knee-high, and the lawn demanded attention.  Further, after a week of travel followed by work, the soul demanded renewal.

Long story short, I blew off writing in favor of being out doors in the sun. I blew off writing for the thrill of guiding my anemic lawn mower across uneven tufts of grass and broad-leaf weeds, making them all even.  And I blew off writing in favor of digging in the dirt.

This weekend, I spent some quality time living in the moment, surveying my small lot, picking up sticks and, yes, watching the grass grow.  In my head, I drew plans for flower and vegetable beds to come.  I made a list of materials I will need to make the vision into reality.  And in those simple acts, I was renewed.

It began to rain shortly after the work was completed. It has been raining ever since.

For me, gardening is an act of renewal.

For you, there may be other activities, other sources for gaining or regaining perspective. Some people golf, or watch baseball, but for me, it has long been gardening.

What do you do to gain perspective?

What do you do to feed your soul?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Men Stayed at Charlie

Today, it's a footnote in history.  In April of 1972 it was national news.  Today, it is remembered mostly by  men who were there. And when Fire-base Charlie in the central highlands of the Republic of Vietnam fell forty years ago I was there.

Fire-base Charlie was situated athwart a North Vietnamese infiltration route in a mountain pass northwest of Kontum City.  It was manned by the 470 officers and men of the 11th Airborne Batallion, Army of the Republic of Vietnam and one American adviser.

From almost the moment it was occupied on 12 April 1972, Charlie was under continuing vicious attack.  Over those three days, the ground defense was bolstered by air strikes and Army Cobra helicopter gunships controlled by the American adviser, call sign Dusty Cyanide.  By the afternoon of 15 April, conditions on Charlie were desperate.  Defenders, out of ammunition, held their positions using hand grenades, knives, clubbed rifles, Air Force tactical air and Army attack helicopter support.   

I flew in support of Charlie twice on April 15th.  After a mission early in the afternoon, we were replaced by another team from my company, the Pink Panthers, who, when they expended, were replaced by a team of Cobras from the 57th Assault Helicopter Cougars. The Cougars were relieved by another team of Panthers and we were launched on a second mission at dusk. We followed battle by radio as we flew northward.

We checked in with Dusty Cyanide in time to hear "You broke the attack!" and "Shoot 50 meters north of the big fire."  The problem is, we could see no less than three big fires an and three or four smaller ones.  Otherwise, the mountains were pitch black.  We settled things by putting a pair of rockets 50 meters north of the largest fire in the middle and were told "That's it Panther - put it right there!" and, a pass or two later, "OK Panther, you broke the attack." and "We abandoning position" and, I think a direction of egress."  We put the rest of our load between the big fire an the assumed position of the friendlies.  The next thing we heard from the out-of-breath voice below us was "You broke the attack. We're clear, heading down the mountain," and then nothing.

When the survivors had been recovered, Dusty Cyanide, sent us his gratitude via newsman Peter Arnett.  The message was "Those first guns were good.  They broke the attack.  But that last team was shit hot. They broke things up and covered our escape." Peter Arnett came by our Company Club to deliver the message in person.

For his actions on Firebase Charlie an in getting the survivors off the mountain, Major John Duffy, Dusty Cyanide, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  He deserved more.

The 1972 South Vietnamese Literature Award went to a book titled "The Red Flames of Summer" by Phan Nhat Nam. The book was based on survivor accounts of the actions at Charlie.  A popular song called "The Men Stayed at Charlie" followed.

Of the 470 men who initially occupied Charlie only 35 walked off.  

The rest stayed at Charlie.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

All Things New

I love springtime -- the lengthening days, the brightness of the sun, the birds and birdsong, the return of warmth to the air and color to the world.  Early flowers push themselves through the frozen earth, eager to add color to the still gray world around them.  Then suddenly spring bursts upon the world with light and warmth and flashes of vivid color.

The sky turns the brightest of blues.  Opening daffodils, tulips, even dandelions provide yellows and reds, purples and oranges to the mix as they open.  Trees blossom and bloom, each adding its unique contribution to the beauty around them.  Leaves return to the trees in myriad shades of green, each tree different from its neighbor.

It is as if the world were created anew and waits, clean and fresh scrubbed, to greet the future.

Spring marks a season of new beginnings.

Farmers and gardeners prepare fields and plots for planting, anticipating a bumper crop or an abundance of fresh vegetables and flowers.

Baseball teams assemble players and practice anticipating the new season, each hoping to make the playoffs and win the a championship -- even the World Series.

School children anticipate summer.  "This will be the best vacation yet!"

Seniors in high school and college anticipate spring commencement and freedom outside the halls of academia.

Springtime sweethearts may plan summer weddings.

Christians celebrate Easter and Jews Passover in remembrance of God's mighty acts to emancipate His people.  In each case, they celebrate a new beginning.

As human beings, we like new beginnings.

New beginnings represent opportunities to do new things, or do old things better.  New beginnings allow us to do things differently, to do things over, to make right things we've done wrong, and to repair things we've messed up.  New beginnings allow us to learn from the past and grow into the future.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying "To continue to do the same things and expect different results is lunacy." New beginnings set us free from the lunacy.

It is written that old things are passed away.  None of us can change one jot or tittle of the past.

Old things go and new things take their places not only in springtime, not only at Easter or Passover, but daily and every morning.

Do you need a new beginning?

What is the very first thing you need to do to make it happen?

Why not do that one thing now?

And be happy.  It's a new beginning.