On our franch, we give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives on Thanksgiving like the Pilgrims did in 1621. Unlike the Pilgrims, we did not struggle for a whole year to grow the food on our table today. Our franch though can easily offer a unique opportunity for our children to learn to appreciate, in a very small way, what life was like for the Pilgrims. I recently suggested to our children that we decide on a very simple menu for next year. Our franch challenge is to raise our own turkey and grow the main ingredients of every side dish on our land for next year’s Thanksgiving. If we fail at growing and harvesting the chosen food, then it’ll be missing at our feast. For one, you all know that pumpkin pie will likely not be on our table. We may even be missing a turkey. Well, our children’s expressions grew more worrisome the more I detailed the plan. I eased some of their concerns by agreeing that they wouldn’t have to churn butter, ground grains into flour, or fetch water from the nearest stream. Our oldest daughter, who loves all the traditional food of Thanksgiving, dramatically objected, “We will have nothing to eat on Thanksgiving next year!” It’s true, next year, our plates may indeed have very little on them. Or, we may very well be celebrating a bountiful harvest which our own hands brought to the table. Lesson learned, either way. This is the way it was for the Pilgrims. For them, the consequence of failure was devastating malnutrition and starvation, for us, it’s an empty stomach. So, if you are invited to our franch next year for the game on Thanksgiving day, please bring food.
There are fifty new chicks peeping in our barn tack room this evening. Not fifteen, fifty. Our children are raising them to show at a local junior livestock competition. Unfortunately, I lost all inspiration to write a creative piece for my faithful followers somewhere between the fairgrounds and our home. Why? Every single chick was incessantly peeping! Classical music on the radio did not soothe them. They did not quiet to learn about the great scientists of history and their discoveries on CD. Nor did they respectively listen to my daughter’s rendition of Mary Poppins’ Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. We tried 10 minutes of silence to be an example to them, and yet they went on peeping. I may have been able to think up something fresh and new to write this evening had they at least tried to harmonize their peeping. So, listen, if you’re ever being tailgated on some rural road one evening, please show some mercy and let ‘em pass. It very well could be a frazzled woman with fifty peeping chicks in her backseat desperate to get home to her franch. You understand, I can not think of anything to say other than “peep.”
It’s my birthday today, and you know who doesn’t care? The animals. All these years and I have yet to hear them say, “You know you’ve worked hard this past year for us. We’ll take care of ourselves today.” They are actually quite demanding. I’m expected at the barn at least twice a day even when I’m sick with the flu. There’s a growing trend of etiquette classes being advertised for children in our area. Somehow farm animals have been overlooked. I don’t let my children act like animals, so why do I let our farm animals off the hook. All of them are incredibly spoiled and are expected to do very little for themselves. It’s very simple, yet the chickens won’t close the door of their coop at night. I have to do that. Our horse won’t brush his own hair. I even have to pay a farrier to come every 6 weeks to take off his shoes. Our cows moo while chewing with their mouths full of cud. The goats could use a lesson on putting others before themselves, as they don’t share alfalfa well with the sheep. It’s outright gross when the cat doesn’t throw his leftover mouse parts in the garbage. Our dog needs a lesson in not taking what’s not his as he once chewed up a visitor’s cowboy boot left out on the porch. My daughter’s hermit crabs won’t come out to greet visitors. And the sheep won’t stop baaing when I’m trying to think. And, they all rudely ignore me when I scold them for not caring about their poor manners. Their stockings will not be filled this year with treats. Instead, they’ll each get a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette.
The wait was finally over. Our cow was in labor. My husband was quite tense as it was the first calf to be born on our franch. And, it was early in the evening, so the children were going to witness their first birth. It had to go well. We were hurrying about the barn trying to follow the orders of my husband as we gathered all the birthing supplies. “And get the pitchfork, son!” my husband orders, and then abruptly turns and starts to head out to the back pasture. “A pitchfork?” queries my son. “Why a pitchfork?” I yell after my husband. I mean, thinking back, I don’t remember seeing one on the labor and delivery floor when I gave birth. He gives both of us a sharp look. Trained to run codes in the emergency department, he strictly instructs, “We may need to help our cow give birth. You need to just listen for my voice, and do what I say, and do it right away.” My son quietly mumbles, “I have no idea what is going to happen, but I have a feeling there is going to be a lot of yelling.” I laugh heartily and then so does my husband. It lightens the mood. All of us lose our tempers on the franch from time to time. On our land, there are a lot of opportunities for repentance and forgiveness. Anyway, after the laughter subsides, my husband still doesn’t offer an explanation for the request. So, the pitchfork is carried along with the rest as I shrug my shoulders. I guess it just seems like a farmer thing to have. I think of the famous painting by Grant Wood, The American Gothic. It is one of the most parodied images ever. If it was re-painted to tell the story on our franch that day, it’d be of my son holding a pitchfork looking quizzically at me, and me at him, with a laboring cow in the background. Come to find out, veterinary guides indeed mention how a pitchfork can be used as a lever, along with rope, if you need to pull a calf that isn’t coming on its own. My husband knew that. But, you learned it here. So next time you see a cow in labor, you’ll know to grab the nearest pitchfork and you won’t get yelled at for asking why.
There are thousands of thousands of books in your nearest bookstore. But, there is one book that is actually still missing among the shelves. It’s not in the parenting aisles. It’s not in the humor section either. I’m looking for a how-to book on raising children on a farm or ranch. You can easily locate multiple books on raising any kind of animal or crop on your place. But, not children. I am in need of some advice quick, as my children are growing like the weeds in our overgrazed pasture. One day, my husband and I were reflecting on the lives of our children over the past couple of months. In that short period of time, our children had witnessed the labor and delivery of a calf, milked goats, and assisted my husband in castrating a buck, in docking the tails of sheep, and in butchering twenty-five meat chickens. I don’t think that’s normal. But, anyone who raises a family on a farm or ranch, I think, wouldn’t want to do it any other way. So, where are all the books? Maybe they’re not written because chores need to get done, leaving little time for a farmer to write. And the farm does a pretty good job at teaching children life lessons on its own.
Time isn’t only able to fly. Time also helps heal a wound in matters of medicine. And every successful person in business knows that time kills all deals. Well, did you know that time can also kill a chicken? With time always changing, springing forward and falling back, we are always adjusting what we do on our franch. Chores need to be done earlier and earlier as winter approaches. One chore that needs to be done at dusk is securing the chickens in the coop before their nocturnal predators leave their roosting places. It gets more difficult to get home at dusk as our life still happens beyond the fences of our franch. One day we came home at a decent hour, yet time had recently fallen back, and it was well past dark. My daughter’s new brood of chickens from her birthday was not in or near the coop. Our hearts sank. A flashlight search ended in finding her favorite of the chickens half-eaten with its feathers all about and never locating two others. We learned a hard lesson on that early, yet dark, evening – we need to always pay attention to the time to better protect our chickens from their nocturnal foes. We are now counting on time to heal our daughter’s broken heart.
The knee stains on our overalls is proof that plenty of time is spent in our garden on the franch. Over the last few years, we’ve been blessed with decent harvests of, in alphabetical order, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, spinach, squash, and tomatoes. And a single blackberry. Sadly though, our thumbs remain only a light shade of green. Why? It’s because of pumpkins. Do you know pumpkins take a long time to grow? Every year, for some reason, we are late in the planting of our pumpkins. We don’t seem to know how to count backwards. Come October, we don’t have any pumpkins to carve. It’s embarrassing to have to take our children to the pumpkin patch down the road year after year. This year, it was looking like our pumpkins would actually ripen in time to make a homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Our thumbs seemed a darker shade of green. Then, an early deep freeze for South Texas last week killed our pumpkin vines! Coincidentally, our family recently read in the The Little House on the Prairie series that Laura’s family actually made a pumpkin pie with green pumpkins when an early October frost killed their pumpkin vines. I’m inspired, for a minute. But, never mind, I am no Ma Ingalls. So, will you please remind us next year (call, text, tweet, post or yell) to plant in early August. Or is that still too late?
I knew it was just a matter of time. The clerk at one of the local feed stores remembered the name of the well-loved and dirty sheep stuffed animal that our youngest child carries around the franch, and everywhere. It isn’t “lamb,” “sheep,” “fluffles,” “whitey,” or “lovey.” It’s “baa-baa.” And, the clerk said hello to “baa-baa” today. Do you know what that means? It means we spend way too much money at the feed store. It’s the first serious sign that we are on our way to bankruptcy. The next sign we are one step closer to life on the streets will be when the clerk memorizes our phone number which she enters at check out. Thankfully, she keeps switching the last two numbers, for now. It just isn’t going to be easy to spend less as we are addicted to our franch life with all of our animals. I guess the simple solution to going broke is to find a way to make more. In the meantime, I’ll choose denial by getting a new lovey for our child and changing our phone number.
That isn’t a metaphor. It’s real life. It’s called the World Champion Wild Hog Festival. (By the way, I don’t think anyone travels from across the globe to wrestle a hog in a small Texas town, so “world” may be overstating it just a bit). My husband somehow learned about this competition and it quickly became a dream of his that had to be accomplished. You can’t live on a franch unless you have a belt buckle with a wild hog on it. This competition is where a hog is set loose in an arena, then you and a partner chase it, catch it, get it in a burlap sack, and pull it across the finish line as fast as possible. Yes, seriously. And these hogs are feral and mean, with the heavy division hogs weighing in at 85 pounds minimum. My husband was intent on convincing one of his university colleagues to join him on this quest. But, it’s a pretty sophisticated crowd, and I couldn’t imagine any of them risking their lives to wrestle a hog. Not many have anything to do with farming or ranching (even though my husband relentlessly tries to convince them to live the franch life!). So, instead, I planned a quiet day on our franch. It was looking like I’d finally fulfill my dream of spending an afternoon together relaxing in our hammock and finding shapes in the clouds, and then, not just one colleague, two of ’em were all-of-sudden willing. Upon arrival at the event, the announcer was pleased to report an earlier contestant needing only stitches from an early morning hog gone wild. Worried, I scolded his colleagues, “We wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t said yes to being my husband’s partner! If something happens to him, you are going to help me raise our children.” But, there was no turning back, I mean, we had driven two hours. Well, it played out the way it does on the job – my husband basically supervised his colleague tackling the hog, then held the bag for him, and finally together dragged it across the finish line. Unfortunately, they didn’t win the coveted buckle, but they do have a priceless story to tell. Even though this one was definitely absurd to a once suburban girl, my husband made yet another franch dream come true. Before you laugh at all this, remember Theodore Roosevelt’s lesson, “…it is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…” I don’t see why this can’t apply to an arena full of wild hogs. Growing up on our franch, our children not only have the usual childhood ribbons and trophies on their shelves, they also have ones like their muddy “I Caught A Hog” ribbon from the junior scramble division. I think my husband is most proud of ones like that. Honestly, I am too. The wild hog festival for next year is on our calendar.
Because you never make more than you spend on a franch (or at least we don’t), it can’t be your day job. So, your closet isn’t only filled with the stereotypical farm attire. You have the muck boots, the overalls, and the pearl snap shirts – that’s a given. But, you also need to dress the part that brings in the funds. That is why you will find my husband milking goats in hospital scrubs before he races off in cowboy boots for a night shift in the emergency room. Or, you may find him tinkering with sprinklers in his garden in a suit after having given a lecture at the medical school. On our franch, the kids and I also look like we’re having an identity crisis. You will find my youngest daughter twirling around in a tutu wearing polka-dot mud boots on her way to collect the eggs. You will find mud on my heels and hay on my dress at an extravagant gala because I tried to fit in one last barn chore before the evening began. By the way, you will not see me embarrassed when some lady quietly whispers about the hay on my behind – it’s all part of the franch look. And, you won’t be as surprised as my husband was one day to find me out in the pasture weed-wacking with sleek black yoga pants tucked into purple boots with oversized rhinestone sunglasses as my eye protection. Whatever you do, why not look good doing it? Maybe, someday, there will be such franch looks on the runway of a small fashion show in some rural town meeting hall.