Of Walking Bean Fields And Mowing Lawns, and Teaching Kids A Work Ethic

Photo by infomatique, via Flickr

There’s a repertoire of “farm kid” stories that country kids have to have: loading, unloading and stacking straw and hay bales is on the list (check), and some great animal stories that are not universally appropriate to share (check). For a lot of people, detassling corn is one of Those Stories. I never did that, although I heard about it a lot.

We did, however, walk bean fields. You don’t walk just any bean field. We walked bean fields because my parents were growing soybeans for seed, and the seed companies wanted the product much cleaner—i.e.., weed-free—than the average. The row cultivator helps, and so do the herbicides, but sometimes there’s nothing to do but pound the dirt.

My parents hired us—actually, “hired” is probably not entirely accurate, as we were not given a choice in the matter; on the other hand, they did pay us—to go out on hot summer evenings and spread out, each of us covering three to five rows, depending on the density of the weeds, and pull weeds. Our main enemies were cottonweed, cuckleburr, and shattercane.

Oh, that shattercane. Shattercane is like dandelions, only with a slower life cycle and a whole lot bigger. And it looks a lot like corn. Let one plant go and next year you have hundreds. Sometimes we had to abandon our own rows and go help someone else who had a patch. Some days the ground was wet, other days it was really dry. Sometimes things uprooted easily, sometimes they didn’t.

I complained a lot. In my head, I complained almost nonstop.

I remembered this on Friday evening because Alex had to mow a neighbor’s yard. You would think, based on his reaction, that he’d been sentenced to life in prison. We didn’t give him a choice; a job is a job is a job, and we had a break in the rain. And to his credit, once he got that initial “tween” reaction out of the way, he didn’t complain out loud. But I could see the complaints in his head. They were voluminous.

It got me to thinking that when we’re kids we always think we’re being better behaved than we really are. I figured my parents didn’t know how bad my attitude was while walking beans, because I was hiding it out of respect. But on the other side of the parenting coin I am certain that they knew very well how bad my attitude was.

In any case, I’m grateful to my parents for the early lessons in work ethic, because they’ve served me well, however much I loathed them at the time. (Gardening, canning, processing chickens, loading hay, weeding garden, mowing lawn…) Now the trick is, to find the opportunities for my own city-dwelling kids…