Growing up in rural Georgia helped me acquire certain skills that have made me a much more productive citizen. Many of those lessons I learned have also been helpful in honing my meager outdoor talents. I should point out to begin with that if you grew up in a city you probably haven’t participated in most of these activities thus depriving you of a decent upbringing or at least making these superior character traits much harder to obtain.
So let’s take a look at some of the factors that helped mold me into the upright, forthright and downright humble guy that I turned out to be.
One of the most important jobs we had growing up was to shovel cow manure. Daddy felt like if things got to the point where the poop was sucking your boots off in the calf barn that it was high time to spend a day time decontaminating the place. Now I know what’s going through your mind is something like, “Surely you jest.” But alas I am deadly serious. Manure scooping is very important to one’s upbringing. It prepares you for several tasks that you may be called on to perform at one time or another. First of all it acquaints you with how to actually use a shovel in the most efficient way possible and that’s a good thing. Many people go through their entire lives and never pick one up. Later on they may be called upon to shovel snow, dirt or gravel and they have no idea where the business end of the tool is located.
Additionally shoveling manure helped me eliminate one thing that I wanted to pursue as a career and in general it is an excellent character building exercise. If you can shovel cow dung all day it proves that no obstacle in your life is too great to overcome.
Another chore that played a key role in my formative years was digging post holes with a tool that was ingeniously called a “post-hole digger.” I was fortunate enough to become intimately familiar with this implement when Daddy decided to build a barn big enough to house most of Morgan County’s citizens. The posts that were to make up the perimeter of the barn must have been cut from Giant Sequoias because there aren’t any trees around here that grow to be that size. The holes that were to be dug would have made a suitable grave for an elephant.
What I found out about post-hole digging was that proper technique is important but not as crucial as good aim and lots of thrust. Digging post holes is very educational because the holes have to meet stringent requirements in terms of width and depth but it is also an excellent way to improve your overall physical fitness and especially your upper body strength.
Then there’s the hauling of hay. This chore, pursued primarily in the high summer, is a sweaty job. Calling it a sweaty job is like saying Pete Rose enjoys gambling - kind of an understatement. Hay hauling is also an extremely dusty job. That, too, is a vast understatement. Anyway my doctor says that I have some of the most efficient sweat glands he’s ever seen and a world class immunity to dust particles. I’m sure both of those characteristics are directly attributable to the hours spent in the hayfield and the hay barn.
There were plenty of other skills we acquired on the farm that helped us along life’s path. Backing a hay wagon into the tiny opening at the barn taught me some valuable lessons. To this day, if it becomes necessary, I can back my car down the road at 30 miles an hour, back a boat into a tiny ramp with the efficiency of Richard Petty, or put my camper in a slot that was designed for a Volkswagon. I also learned valuable techniques of evasion. Every once in a while I’d hit one of those big posts at the barn with the wagon and I had to learn to evade Daddy’s wrath by running a zig-zag pattern across the field.
It would be a serious omission if I didn’t also tell you about the lessons learned inside our calf barn. Feeding young calves with a milk bottle helps teach patience and also toughness. Patience is acquired because the little suckers are stupid and insistent that the milk be coming through at the rate they think is suitable. They will step on your toes and butt with a vengeance the bottle you are holding. Toughness is developed because many of those calf-feeding sessions were carried out in the middle of an ice storm or a blizzard.
So there you have it. If you missed out on these things I’m afraid that you will never measure up in terms of character, physical conditioning, driving skills, patience, toughness or overcoming adversity.
I just hope you’re not shoveling manure as a result.
Alvin Richardson is a former head football coach at Morgan County High School, an ex-Georgia College & State University
basketball player, retired educator and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org