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WOSTER: Being a hired hand meant doing as told and not having to worry why

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I was out pulling weeds last Sunday afternoon when it occurred to me that maybe I could let my lawn go fallow every third or fourth year.

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We did that the last year, not on purpose, when a sewer main collapsed and we dug up our front lawn and boulevard. The job took so long that we didn’t get grass growing that year. I should have called it fallowing. Instead, we planted grass this year, so there I was, pulling weeds. Seems a waste of a good opportunity to let it all fallow and capture moisture for a season or two.

We used to do that with fields back on the farm, and it seemed to work out well. I confess I don’t know if it really worked well. In those days I wasn’t paying much attention to crop outcomes relative to the amount of effort that went into a piece of land. If my dad told me to go out and pull a drag through the field and clear the weeds, that’s what I’d do. If he told me to go to some other field and mow alfalfa or stack hay or cultivate weeds, that’s what I’d do.

He was the one who knew why we were doing things and when we should do things and what things we should do when we did those things. I was the hired hand. I did what I was told. I didn’t study a lot on farming practices, and I didn’t pretend to know a lot about them. That was probably obvious to anyone in Lyman County who was familiar with our farm. That may be why Leonard DeBoer, my vocational agriculture teacher in high school, told me he’d give me an “A’’ for the course if I promised not to be a farmer. He was probably joking, but it seemed like a fair deal to me.

Now, my big brother, Jim, he went off to college to study agriculture after high school. When he came back that first summer, he had a fair amount of book learning and sometimes got into discussions with our dad about the hows and whys of dry-land farming or running cattle.

I was impressed -- not so much with how much he’d learned in a year away as with the fact that he was willing to talk man-to-man with our dad, who’d been farming all his life. I never figured out whether Jim had a clue what he was talking about when he talked farming with our dad. He talked like he knew a thing or two, and, as I said, he’d been to college, so maybe he did.

Me, I knew I hadn’t been to college or anywhere else to study farming. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, and that was just dandy with me. I wasn’t intending to go into farm management or to buy my own land. I’d already gotten my “A.’’ I was content to be a hired hand, mostly hard-working, usually competent, often attentive to the task at hand (with lapses to try to bounty a badger waddling through the hayfield) but seldom invested in the outcome and never interested in taking the initiative to look for more effective or efficient ways to perform the task at hand.

That’s why if my dad said go out and clear the weeds from that piece of summer fallow over west, I’d hook up the implement, head for the field and clear the weeds. I wasn’t paying much attention. I knew he was paying attention. No sense both of us using brain capacity on the same thing. If he paid attention to fallowing, I’d bounce along in front of the drag and pay attention to the rock and roll tunes floating through my mind. Whether I daydreamed or focused on farming, the pay was the same -- $5 a day and college tuition.

Come to think of it, that’s $5 a day and a college education more than I’m paying myself to keep the weeds out of my yard these days. This idea of letting the lawn go fallow is looking better all the time.

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