We have a running joke around our house. It seems that every time one of the partners makes the trip down from Chicago to visit, enjoy the farm, and chip in a little elbow grease, it rains. The record holds out. Although Mike plus one got a lot of bush hogging done between tractor repairs on Saturday. Yesterday was a wash. Literally.
Well, it was a wash for “outside” work until late afternoon. Even on rainy days there is plenty to do. So the guys spent the morning cleaning out one of the barns of the tobacco a neighbor hanged in it a few years ago and never retrieved. Mike climbed up in the rafters to drop down the sticks of dried tobacco and the partner took the stalks off the stick and readied them for the compost pile. For some odd reason, the city guy thought it was only going to take about 15 minutes. There were about 600 sticks hanging, but in the two or so hours they worked, they only got about 250 sticks disposed of. By then, City Guy was hot, tired, and complaining it wasn’t their responsibility but the guy who asked to use the barn to begin with and then abandoned the tobacco. The accountant in me suggested they bill him for man hours…guess they don’t do that much in the country. Still, it was difficult, though mindless, work.
This is how they got there.
Six stalks of tobacco, cut from their base in the field, get speared onto four-foot-long tobacco sticks by a crew of field workers. Depending on the acreage grown, it can take days to cut and house the burley tobacco. A tobacco barn can hold about 10,000 sticks…60,000 stalks…to dry. Once air dried from its bright green color to a rusty brown, another crew (or the same versatile crew) will take down the sticks, remove the stalks and pull the tobacco leaves (called “stripping”) while sorting into various grades before bundling them into bales for hauling to the tobacco warehouse to sell. Imagine as a city person how quickly you might respond if a country person asked you with a sly grin, “Hey, you wanna go strip?” He is not making a pass at you, he intends to work your you-know-what off! Or maybe both.
The dried, stripped tobacco weighs about two pounds per stick (on a good year) and the farmer is paid according to the grade and weight. It is a heavily manual-labor intensive operation,one which supported a good number of southern farmers since the founding of this country and one which, due to societal disapproval of the use of tobacco products, is rapidly falling by the wayside and leaving country laborers out of work and many farmers without a replacement crop. But that is another story. The farmer that borrowed a portion of the barn left about a thousand pounds of leaves alone (not counting the stalks) to dry– two or three years ago. If he took it down the year he hung it, and if it was good quality, it might have been worth about $2,000 or so (less stripping and hauling). He didn’t; it just hung there season after season. Mike asked a local authority what he could do about the situation and was told since it was abandoned, he could do whatever he wanted with it. It will now make a whole lot of compost, but not without a lot of manpower, a little sweat, and some complaining! Mike woke up this morning with sore muscles from monkeying around in the rafters to drop the sticks. I wonder if the city-guy was able to get out of bed this morning!
The guys also took some time to do maintenance work on the mowers and tractors as the sun began to peek through the clouds, even if they city guy thought it was a good idea to work on the machines outside, rather than in the barn. I don’t know, maybe he was concerned about spilling oil onto the dirt floor of the barn or something, but Mike chose to let him lie down on the wet grass to do the low work and before long as the sun shone brightly, city-guy was sweating from the heat and humidity of the day. The barn would have been shady and dry, at least. Sweet guy that he is, though, Mike allows them to do things their way sometimes and enjoys teasing them when things do not turn out quite as they expected. Good to know I’m not the only one.
City-guy is headed back home today and is on his way over to get some freshly dug new potatoes and some garden produce to take with him. It is cloudy out and looks like it will rain again most any minute. Mike has gone for the shovel and will start digging right away rather than wait for him to arrive, so it can be done before the downpour. I’m wondering if city-guy even looked at the weather report today other than what the weather might do while he is in his dry vehicle toodling down the highway. The storm cloud is only sixteen miles away right now. Mike knows…he looked at the weather radar first thing, just as he does every morning.
I can’t blame city-guy for his farming faux pas…I am guilty too. At most, before coming to the farm, I only worried about whether I would have to carry and umbrella or not. Many times, I never bothered to check the weather at all– my hair frizz was an impromptu weather prediction device and I could often tell the weather outside by the time it took to get it to lay down in the morning. Which brings me to this random thought…
Ever wonder why so many country women have their hair in ponytail or in a ‘sheep dog’ mane of curly locks when the style went out in the 90s? I used to…then I began to sport the wash and go hairstyle myself, which my daughter termed a “Hillbilly Barbie” ‘do. Who has time to fool with straightening irons, hair products and personal hair grooming fastidiousness on a farm? How long does a ‘do’ last when you are sweating in the garden, filling it with blades of grass while mowing, or pinning it up to keep it out of machinery–or when you are taking several showers a day to get the grime off from machinery that spewed, mud the tractor sent airborn, or a tan of dust you got while hoeing?
But there are problems with the sheepdog look. Gnats, bees, wasps, and japanese beetles all seemed to like my curly blonde locks. I even got stung once while picking peppers when a honey bee decided to kamikaze me. My hair is short now and much easier than even the Hillbilly Barbie style. I found it easier to get the flying insects out of it in the summer. Did I tell you I like stinging insects almost as much as I like snakes?
Speaking of kamikazes…Kentucky has more than its fair share, I think, of suicidal animals bent on taking their revenge on trucks and automobiles. I swear they stand at the side of the road sizing up just the right vehicle to get them the most points. A junker…only 10 deer points, a Lexus…ah, there’s the ticket! But that’s a “whole ‘nuther story.”
The thunder just clapped, the dogs are in their usual tizzy, and I need to get to work. City-guy and Mike are still in the garden. Mike is about to have his second shower this morning. Maybe I should get him a soap-on-a-rope to hang on the rear view mirror of the pickup! Hmmmm.
Oh, and while I think of it… We spoke with our seller last night. Remember he is planning to replace the calf we lost? Looks like we’ll be getting a Randall calf (lineback) on his next trip. I can’t wait to see it.