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James R. Stout

By the sweat of your brow . . .

            My grandparents were married in July of 1921. My great-grandparents owned about 300 acres of land that they farmed with the aid of their son, my grandfather. As a wedding gift, they gave my grandparents 100 acres of their farm. My mother always said it was my great-grandmother’s way of keeping my grandfather nearby. The 100-acres included an old house built sometime in the 1880’s. For the first two months of their marriage, my grandfather remodeled that old house to make it livable. Over the next 10 years my grandfather did all that goes with farming, but a great deal of the land was heavily wooded. It had to be cleared and this meant that the clearing of it was by human and mule power.

            In that ten years they also had three children, including my mother who was born in September of 1929. To say that they were busy is a gross understatement! My grandmother used to talk about how hard my grandfather worked to clear that original 100 acres. She would take the laundry out to hang on the clothesline and see smoke in the distance and knew that Grandpa was burning brush and felled trees. He would use chains attached to leather halters on his two mules and wrapped around large logs to drag the them into piles for burning after cutting them down with an axe or saws.

            By 1935 he had managed to clear the land and was growing cotton, sugar cane, peanuts, potatoes, and various other crops. They also had a garden for growing vegetables for their own usage. They had come into a bit of money the year before when oil was discovered on my other great-grandmother’s land about 2 miles away, but not enough to make them rich. My maternal great-grandmother shared the oil money with her 6 children including my grandmother. It was enough to purchase a new car to go with the 1928 1-ton farm truck that they owned as well as the purchasing of what they called “The Wiggins Place”. It was another 160-acres where a family named Wiggins had farmed. Guess what? It needed clearing too! Grandpa cleared the land with mules at first but bought his first tractor in 1939. It was a 1939 Allis-Chalmers. The two aging mules were mighty pleased. My mother talked about picking cotton and digging for potatoes on this land in the late 30’s and during the war years of the 40’s. It was all hands-on deck one year when it was time to dig up the potatoes after a three-day storm dropped 8 inches of rain. Mom said that they crawled around in the mud and dug up the potatoes as quickly as possible in order to save them from rotting in the wet soil. Fortunately, it wasn’t cotton growing season. Mom remembered picking cotton and having backaches during those years. This work was done when she wasn’t in school. School was a welcome relief to most of the kids in the Pleasant Grove Community.

            By 1946 only my Uncle Tommy was left at home. He was 8 years younger than my mother. Grandpa made the switch to raising cattle as a main source of income in the late 40’s. This meant that he need more land for growing corn, hay, and pastures for the cows. In 1949 he purchased the last 100 acres of his 360-acre farm/ranch. Guess what? That new purchase was heavily wooded. It was owned by a family named Conley and only a few acres had been cleared to grow a garden. I have no idea what Mr. Conley did for a living. Grandpa enlisted some help for clearing the land this time though. He hired a couple of brothers to clear the land while Grandpa dug post holes and put up barbed wire fences as the land was cleared. If you’ve never done that, then you have no idea how much hard work that it takes. The land that I inherited and have lived on for the past 11 years was 45 acres of that 100-acre tract. I’ve previously mentioned that I am selling my land in another blog entry and why. Please see that entry. While the majority of my land is pastures today, there’s still 8-10 acres that are heavily wooded. Those acres are a thicket growing around tall pines and a mixture of hard woods.

So, why tell you all of this? I wanted to explain that things were different in the past 100 years. The land wasn’t free. Yes, my grandparents were given that first 100-acres by my great-grandparents, but it was by no means “free”. Grandpa paid for it by doing a lot of the work on my great-grandparent’s farm. He also drove them to wherever they needed to go because they neither one drove a car. In many ways, he was their caretaker. As for the other 260 acres, it was bought by my grandparents for the going rate per acre at the time. It was cleared and made ready for farming or ranching. The land was plowed, seeds planted, crops tended to, and then the crops were harvested when ready. If a corral was needed, then Grandpa built it. When the current house was built in 1933 my grandfather and his best friend harvested huge wooden beams and other useful components from the old house and then built the new house. In 1921 my grandfather dug a well 30 feet deep by hand and struck an underground spring that was tested by Texas A&M and certified 99.7% pure! The meals that were cooked by my grandmother were vegetables, chickens, hogs, and beef grown and raised by my grandfather. In other words, there was a time when people did for themselves. They actually lived out the scripture from Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food . .”. What they didn’t grow or couldn’t grow they bartered for or purchased with the bounty from their farm. These included dry goods, flower for baking, and items needed such as shoes.

            I must admit that I have not lived off of the land here. It’s been more like a park to me. I made a living doing a necessary job, but I purchased from stores the things that my grandparents once grew and supplied for themselves. The good news is that there are still farmers and ranchers who provide the food and goods that we need to live. The scary part is there are a couple of generations that have never worked and lived off the land. It’s becoming a lost art. Even most of my generation only witnessed that way of life by spending time with our grandparents on their farms and ranches. When you see teenagers involved in raising livestock or growing crops, then encourage them and support their efforts. I would hate to see America dependent on farmers and ranchers who are part of conglomerates from such places as China. It’s not just farmers and ranchers that this work ethic includes. It’s also the trades and industrial entities. When I was born America was the top steel producing country of the world. This production had allowed America and her Allies to defeat the evil Axis powers. America is #3 today. India and Japan (one of the Axis powers during WW2) are #1 and #2. China is #4, and Germany (another of the Axis Powers) rounds out the top 5. It was rare to see a foreign car in America up until the 70’s. As Marty McFly said in 1985, “What are talking about, Doc? Japan makes all the best stuff!” This “stuff” includes cars. The “Big Three” American automakers that ruled the industry for decades has had to discontinue several makes in the past 20 years or so. These were cars that had once ruled the roads in America and included makes such as Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Mercury, and Plymouth.

            I guess my theme in this entry is that America needs to become self-reliant again. We have incredible resources and despite the state of things in this era of Covid-19, I still believe that American workers can return to their once greatness. I’m not going to get all political on you, but I’ll say that we need to return to the values, work ethic, and mores that brought God’s blessings to America before we can return to that greatness. I’m getting too old to do the physical work that it takes, but there are generations still young enough who could. What I can do is impart a small bit of wisdom learned in 65 years of living onto those young enough to make this country great again. If they will only listen.

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