Family / Farming / Gardening / Homesteading / Kids

The Soggy Bottom Boys

My Uncle Pete grew up during the Great Depression, and he had a cousin with a mean streak wide enough to land that kid a useful beating. One frigid winter morning when the cousins were outside, he looked at Pete and asked him to lick the handle on the water pump (yep, no indoor plumbing). The tip of Pete’s tongue froze, sticking to the pump. Pete pulled away, and left the top layer of skin from the end of his tongue on the handle.

Pete worked hard all of his life and never let anyone or anything beat him. Ever. He was a hard-working man and tough as nails. But he always remembered how much his tongue hurt and how long it took to heal. One of the most painful things he ever experienced.

Pete was young and not smart enough to realize that tongues stick to metal objects in the dead of winter. The next year he did it again wondering if it was cold enough to do it this time. He left another layer of tongue skin on the pump handle and endured another long process of healing. The next winter, he gave up pump handles for the bumper on a Model A Ford. Same results. After three years of pain and a raw tongue, he finally was willing to accept what everyone told him. Tongues freeze to metal, any metal, in winter

Sometimes learning is tough, especially when we ignore the obvious. When you start homesteading, it’s easy to stick your tongue on a frozen pump handle over and over again. Sometimes we even go looking for a Model A bumper. Your tongue may not be raw for a month, but you’ll find yourself completely exhausted and exasperated.

Two summers ago, I opened up about 1000 sq. ft. of our pasture for a new garden. Cutting through sod with a rototiller and picking rocks with a pick, shovel, and digging is helped the budget. I didn’t need to pay for a health club membership to hit the gym. But it took TIME and lots of it. It should have been worth it because a garden can feed a family for a lifetime.

The soil I was working was saturated, almost liquid, after a rain. I didn’t give it much thought because that spring was one of the wettest seasons on record and it rained and rained. I also didn’t think to question the fact that I chose a convenient place for the garden, 75 yards away from a fantastic natural spring we have on our property. Springs are simply spots where the ground water meets the surface, which means that the water table is only a few feet under the sod in the ground around it. When even a small shower passes, the surface water has nowhere to go, and the soil saturates immediately. Garden plants and saturated soil mix as well as oil and water.

I planted that wet soil and watched a garden fail. Potatoes and bean seeds rotted in the ground. Tomato and cucumber plants looked anemic and didn’t bear much fruit. I wondered what went wrong and planted again. Same results. I didn’t have a raw tongue, but I was exhausted and exasperated.

Last year I planted that soil again, figuring that the problem was the near record rainfall, not the location of the garden. Same results. And I replanted again because the soil didn’t seem too wet and I just couldn’t believe the ground was too saturated this time. I was licking as many pump handles and Model A bumpers as I could find.

Stupid is as stupid ignores all the advice about wet soil and plants again and again.

We expanded the garden again last spring and found dry soil. The difference is astounding. A valuable lesson learned, but I wasted the most precious resource we have. Time.

These days I’m learning my lessons and making sure the homesteading doesn’t get out of hand. The boys are 5 and 8 and I’m making space to be a dad. We’ve started playing football, soccer, and target shooting together. It’s GLORIOUS and everything I ever hoped being a dad would be. All it takes is time.

Looking back I see what I’ve missed. Sons and friends. Life in our home is much more peaceful when we play as a family. When a homestead robs a family of that, then it’s time to repent from abject stupidity.

At the moment, I don’t have a raw tongue but a raw heart. I’m a husband and a father first, a musician and a homesteader second. When I refuse to allow something around here to beat me, things get out of hand, and more is lost than Dad’s time. My sons lose precious time with me, and we lose joy together.

These days when something doesn’t work, I stop to think about pump handles and Model A bumpers, and I walk away from what’s getting the best of me. I’ll grab a football and find my sons.

It’s far better to be exhausted and filled with laughter from a good pummeling by those two, than to be exhausted and exasperated from a pummeling from my own pride and stupidity.



3 thoughts on “The Soggy Bottom Boys

  1. Pingback: Homesteading Basics: Planting & Growing Fruit | Crossroads Homestead

  2. Pingback: Homestead Basics: Choosing Your Orchard’s Location | Crossroads Homestead

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