The town where I spent my boyhood is situated along a creek in a county named for the Isle of Guernsey (in the English Channel), which is named for a breed of cattle. Our home on the edge of town was about five minutes from Grandpa Rogers’s farm in the nearby rolling hills, a property that’d been in the family more than 100 years by the time I ran the hills and hollows. A place that still looms large in my memory and make-up.
Four Rogers brothers emigrated from England to Maryland in 1683. Nearly two centuries later our line of the Rogers clan traveled cross-country looking for farmland, finding it in the not-so-old state of Ohio. My Great Great Grandpa John Rogers was one of them. He stayed for a time in another community nearby, than purchased “The Farm” in 1853. Before the Civil War, his obituary says, he assisted runaway slaves along the underground railroad.
Lilburn, John’s son and my Great Grandpa, later worked The Farm along with his family until a heart attack took his life at the dinner table on Christmas Eve, 1917. Suddenly without a father to work The Farm my Grandpa Tom Rogers, then in the Eighth Grade, dropped out of school and began driving wagons for a living—and working The Farm. His two older brothers had by then moved away to pursue professional careers and never returned to farming. Grandpa stayed, bought their shares, worked The Farm, and at 33 years married Grandma. Dad was born and raised on The Farm.
When Dad and Mom got married he headed with her to the big city, her hometown, which is to say Small Town. But The Farm was never very far away, geographically or emotionally, especially while Grandpa and Grandma continued to live there.
So when I came along I all but grew up on The Farm. My first dollar came from putting up hay. Hot days of walking alongside slow-moving wagons picking up bales and tossing them on. When I got into high school and stronger we tossed the bales five rows high.
I’ve forked many a stall clean in the spring. Like most farm labor actually, it was satisfying work. I forked the straw-laden manure into a wheelbarrow, rolled the full load past the stanchions into the barnyard and up a precariously positioned plank. Over she went. The offload was fun, but it was more fun to come back into the stall, dig for my pocketknife, and carve a small notch into an old sideboard. I was a gunslinger keeping a morbid tally. The number of notches increased as a public testament to my prowess that speaks to this day.
The source of all this fertilizer was Grandpa’s Herefords, or what he called “White Faces.” Hereford’s get their name from Herefordshire, England, are reddish of body and feature white hair on their heads, neck fronts, and underbelly. Sometimes they have a white sock or two. Grandpa’s White Faces weren’t purebred, but they were polled, meaning their horns had been genetically bred from them. Some people prefer polled cattle because horns get in the way, damage farm stalls or fences, and can be dangerous even if accidentally. Grandpa’s herds were not huge, maybe 25, 30, 40 at the largest, but they were always there, required management and winter care, and provided a source of meat for the family. Best of all, they created timeless pictures of pastoral tranquility on long summer evenings. For a farmer, there’s nothing more relaxing than watching a herd of quietly grazing cattle.
Grandpa kept one breeding bull named “John.” Come to think of it, all the bulls year after year were named John and all were registered Hereford sires. To protect the genetic strength of the herd calves Grandpa would sell the older bull and buy a younger one every three or four years. I remember one John who was mean and had to wear a huge specially built metal mask on his face, which had eye covers that prevented him from seeing straight ahead unless he tilted his nose to the sky. Most of the bulls, though, and certainly the cows were quite docile, but then again we didn’t mess with the bull.
The Farm featured a continually changing menagerie of animal life. There were chickens, pigs, at times a pony or two, dogs, cats, and once in awhile sheep, goats, and maybe a horse.
I’ve never been a farmer, but in some sense I grew up one and I’m glad for it. Some of my fondest memories come from down on The Farm. It’s part of me warp and woof, imbedding in my DNA and worked into my cultural worldview. To this day driving through farm country, at home or abroad, remains a limitless source of simple pleasure.
I’ve always believed my farm roots helped me teach or preach, because the imagery of Scripture is built upon agricultural economies.
In my book, I had the best of both worlds, The Farm and Small Town.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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