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Watching the Cows

3 Apr

Our dinner table sits in front of a large window that looks upon the field behind the house. This allows us to watch the cattle graze, and it also allows us to talk about the cattle. Tonight, we watched a mama cow look after her newborn calf.

If you do not think mama cow is a real term, then you should listen to cow people talk.

The calf was lying on the ground, and my wife and stepdaughter were getting worried. The calf had not moved in a while. Honestly, I was worried, too. Earlier, I drove out there to make sure it was alright.

After a few minutes, the calf got up and followed its mother to another part of the field.

A few weeks ago, another calf was born near the house. When I got home, buzzards were smelling blood and trying to get near it. I went out to run them off, and I was not alone. As the mother pushed the calf away, the other cows formed a line and attacked the buzzards. They stomped, and they kicked. Eventually, the buzzards went away.

That calf was born during good weather. However, it stormed that night, and everyone in the house was worried about it. The next day it snowed. That calf experienced some true Tennessee spring weather within a matter of hours. Now, the calf is an old pro.

These days, there is a lot of cow activity around the house. Later this month, the barn behind the house will host the annual production sale. I have written about it before. In the old days, the cattle were owned by my dad, but he got out of the business. Now, his former partner grazes his cattle on the land and has his own sale.

People will come from most of the states to purchase the animals. However, these animals are not destined for the dinner plate. They are too valuable for that. These cattle will be used to improve the bloodlines of herds around the country.

It is a busy time of year around these parts. People are preparing for the sale, and the calves are playing while the mama cows keep close watch.

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Morning with the Mennonites

12 Jul

This morning, my parents, my nephew and I journeyed across the state line into Kentucky and visited a Mennonite community. My parents have been going for years to buy fresh produce and have been on me about going with them. Being a historian, they thought I should see people living in a historical way.

The Mennonites that we visited are much like the Amish of Pennsylvania. Their religious beliefs lead them to live a simple life without modern conveniences. In fact, they speak Pennsylvania Dutch and, as one lady told us, speak German during church services.

We went to several stands owned by different families, and there was a crowd of people as each one. The fact that the Mennonites do not use many modern technologies does not prevent them from doing business with those who do. You just have to watch what you wear.image-4

This includes stores like Walmart. We passed a couple of facilities designed to load long haul trucks. Oh yeah, I say that they do not use many modern technologies because a few guys had cellphones. I did not see women with cellphones. I wonder if that is allowed.

My nephew has taken a couple of years of German in school and was interested to see if he could talk to them. My dad made sure he did it at every place we stopped. That is how we learned that they mostly speak Pennsylvania Dutch. One man spoke great German but most used a mixture of different things. In one place, there was a teenage girl working who my dad thought my nephew should talk to. She was wearing a long dress and a small bonnet. I think my nephew likes them a little more scantily clad.

I realize that they want to live a simple life and stay away from modern technology, but that brought up a question in my mind. How do they decide what technology is modern? We saw the cellphones, which they probably need for business purposes, but that is not what I am talking about. As we drove around, we saw horse-drawn buggies; equipment pulled by mules and other things from the 1800s. At one time, those were modern technologies.image-5

When did they decide that a certain state of technological advancement was far enough? Did Mennonites look back at the 1600s and say we need to live like that? Since it is a Christian faith, would they not go back to the simple times of Jesus and live like that? What made 1800s technology acceptable as simple?

I did not take pictures of the people. I did not seem right. Although everyone was giving them money for their stuff, I also got the feeling that people were also looking at them like they were museum pieces. I could be wrong, but I was still not going to take their pictures. Everywhere we went, the young people looked at we outsiders in a different way. My mom talked about how one girl kept looking at my nephew like she thought he was cute.

No disrespect for my nephew, but I am not sure that was it. Again, I may be reaching, but it was like they were wishing that they could put on shorts and a t-shirt and spend a Saturday in a car. They were born into this world, but they constantly interact with people in another world. For generations, people have been living the farm to get a new life. I wonder if that will happen to the Mennonites. Will their interactions with us eventually lead to an end to their mantra of a simple life?

Despite all of that deep thinking, it was a great trip and a great way to spend the day with my family. The farms that we passed were beautiful, and I can understand why people would want to preserve that way of life.image-6

I also know that I would not want to live it. As we left the Mennonite territory, my nephew was falling asleep. I punched him awake when I saw a red Ferrari pulling out of a gas station. I am pretty sure that is the lifestyle he and I would prefer and want to preserve.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But That Is Not Always Enough

21 May

My brother sent an email that he thought I would find interesting. It contains a slide show of old photographs that have been colorized. As the series of photos appear on the screen, melancholy music plays in the background. I must admit that it is a cool thing to look at.

Each photograph has a caption that explains the images. Some of them are of famous people and famous events. Others are of regular people doing regular things. However, one of them stood out from the rest. The caption read, “A mother and her children living on US Route 70 near the Tennessee River 1936.”Poor Woman

This photo struck me for several reasons. Obviously, the imagery is striking as it portrays absolute poverty. The mother had made a skirt from a flour sack, and the children are wearing rags. They are all barefooted and dirty. We can only imagine how hungry they are. Despite these circumstances, the child on the right looks to be having fun. He is pulling on his sister’s foot and smiling at her. She could be laughing or squealing. The scene tells a complicated story.

However, the image was not the only thing that struck me. The picture was made in my state of Tennessee, and that brought the images closer to home. I remember stories of the Great Depression from my grandparents. They said that the Depression was bad, but they were poor before it began.

All of that brought this image close to home, but there is something else. The caption says that they were “living on US Route 70.” That is the road I grew up on. Granted, it is a federal highway that goes from coast to coast, but I always considered it my street. Somewhere inside, I feel that this picture was taken in my neighborhood. It was a different time and vastly different economic circumstances, but it is still my neighborhood.

With all of that going on, I had to do some quick online research, and some interesting information popped up.

This photograph was taken by Carl Mydans as part of the Farm Security Administration, one of the many New Deal programs. It was designed to help the rural poor find better land and learn better farming techniques. To chronicle the plight of these people, photographers and writers were sent out to record their stories. I have no idea how successful the program was in agricultural education, but it provided us with some iconic images of the time period.

(Sidenote: Gordon Parks was a photographer in this program. He went on to greater fame as the director of Shaft.)

As I dug deeper, more information came to light. The family lived near Camden, and their shack was built on the chassis of a Ford truck. There were nine people in the family, and the 17-year-old son said that he had only attend school for two years. Also, there are other photographs that include the father, other kids and the man interviewing them.

That is good information, but there is more that needs to be known. What were their names? How did they find themselves in this situation? Was it the result of the Great Depression, or did the poverty go back for generations? What happened to them? Did the children grow up and improve their condition? Did they survive? Did they know that their pictures would become part of our national heritage?

Like many stories from the past, this one has missing pieces that may never be found. We know a great deal about those in power, but we still have a long way to go with the masses that make history complete.

Scenes From a Cattle Sale

29 Apr

My dad grew up on a dairy farm, and he has always liked having cattle around. In fact, they have been around for as long as I can remember. For years, he has owned Angus, a breed that can be traced back to Scotland. The are black cattle that have become the staple of the beef industry.

For many of those years, my dad had several head but was not that serious about it. Then, he and a partner started the Horn Springs Angus Farm. With hard work and a lot of investment, this became not only one of the top herds in Tennessee but also one of the top herds in the nation. HSAF cattle have won some of the biggest shows and have been praised for the quality of their offspring.

You see, the animals are not for slaughter. They are show cattle that are used to enhance the breed. In 2000, my dad and his partner decided to hold an annual production sale. Although my dad is not as involved as he used to be, he still hosts the sale on his land, and cow people come from all over to buy. This year, there were folks from as far away as Montana and Canada.

This past Sunday marked another day of auctioning cattle, and I thought it would be interesting to chronicle the scene on this blog. I took photos with my iPhone, which my wife and stepdaughter claim I am not very good at doing. I do not know if the pictures are of good quality, but you may find them interesting.

When people arrive, the first thing they want to do is check out the cattle that are going up for auction.

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Of course, there is more than one way to look at a cow.

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These guys look serious about it.

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You may have noticed some people sitting at tables. The sale is almost as famous for its lunch as it is for the cattle. This year, they had barbecue (beef, of course), barbecued bologna (baloney in these parts), brisket, baked beans, cole slaw, and some of the best pecan pie you will ever eat. The only thing missing was vanilla ice cream to put on the pie.image-6

People get in line as fast as possible to get to the vittles. In this picture, my wife and stepdaughter are making their way through.image-8

Once the plate is piled, it is time to eat.

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Of course, the whole point is to buy and sell cattle, and that takes place in this ring.

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The barn sits empty while people browse and eat, but, when it is auction time, people get ready for business.

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Introductions are made. Cattle are brought in. The auctioneer starts talking. The ring men start taking bids. The beginning of the auction is actually pretty exciting.

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However, important work is also going on behind the scenes as people are getting the cattle lined up to go in the ring. There cannot be a delay in the action.

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Here is another view of the ring as cattle are being sold.

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Eventually, the cattle are loaded onto trailers and taken to places throughout the United States and Canada.

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Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed a few scenes from a cattle sale.

 

Boiled Custard, Dead Hogs and Black-Eyed Peas

3 Aug

Every Friday, a group of us guys has lunch together. Same restaurant. Same table. Usually, the same meals. Through the years, some people have taken to calling us the Mafia. We don’t get anything accomplished, but we think the world would be a better place if people listened to us.

One member of the group of full of old-time ideas about such things as the weather. For example, he says that if you hang a dead snake over a fence rail, then it will rain. It has rained a lot lately, so, today, I asked him if he had been killing snakes. His reply was that he hadn’t seen any snakes. Maybe, they knew it was about to rain, so they stayed out of his way.

Since lunch, I have been thinking about superstitions and traditions such as this. I have heard them all of my life, and they sound like something that you would find in the Farmer’s Almanac. I wonder if people in different parts of the country have different things like this. I mean, is the dead snake idea universal, or is it a southern thing?

There are a lot of southern things that have come down through the generations. Prominent in my family is the idea that you should eat black-eyed peas and hog jowl on New Year’s Day.Black Eyed Peas

If you do this, then you will have good luck for the rest of the year. When I was a kid, I hated the idea of eating black-eyed peas, but my dad insisted that we do it. Surprisingly, I liked the hog jowl. Overall, I suppose it works. As a family, we have had pretty good luck.

Another tradition is making boiled custard at Christmas. When I say boiled custard, I don’t mean egg nog. This is completely different, and it is completely good. I don’t know what’s in it, and I don’t know why people only make it at Christmas. In my mind, anything that good is worthy of year round consumption. Being a strange child, hearing people talk about boiled custard always made me think of George Custer.George Custer

There is another tradition that is dying out, and I want to experience it before it does. In these parts, people have always killed hogs on the day after Thanksgiving. In the old days, my grandfather had a hog-killing on his farm. Obviously, it involves a lot of blood, but it was necessary to have enough meat for the winter. Also, they needed the hog jowl to put in the black-eyed peas for good luck.Hog Killing

Few people still do it, but the family of one of the Mafia members continue the tradition. This year, I’m taking part. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. I bet the hogs wish they were out shopping.

These are all traditions of the south. Are they also traditions in other places? What’s the old-timey way of doing things in your part of the world?

Categorically

30 Jul

We just finished walking around the neighborhood. As we did, I noticed a man through a window. He was working at his desk, and I began to wonder what he was working on. Was he writing the next great novel? Was he writing a letter? Was he blogging? At the moment, I am sitting by a window, and people are probably looking in and wondering what I am doing.

I like to think that people like what they read here. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff, but it comes right out of my head. Sometimes, It’s travel. Sometimes, it’s music. Sometimes, its stories from the past. All the time, it’s something that is stuck in my mind and needs to get out.

I am not sure what needs to get out tonight, so I will just go down the list of categories on this blog and type this first thing that fits.Scattergories

Academics – School starts back soon. That means inservice.

Agriculture – The other day, I got gas at the Farmer’s Co-Op.

Art – There is a guy named Art who works at Beauty Boutique, Necole’s store.

Biography – The last one I read wasn’t very good, It was about Ward Bond, John Ford and John Wayne. It should have been good.

Books – I just finished The Eye of God by James Rollins. It is the further adventures of Grayson Pierce.

Childhood Memories – Tonight, I mentioned that my parents had a Weeping Willow in their front yard, and I used to play under it.

Comedy – Nothing is funny, at the moment.

Community – I was named to the local Planning Commission. This afternoon was my first meeting.

Crime – Tonight, I found out that a guy I once knew tried to kidnap his wife and lock her in a closet. Hopefully, he will get what’s coming to him.

Did You Know? – I forgot about this category. It needs to be revisited.

Dining – Tonight, we had a home cooked meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and green peas.

Dreams – Lately, my dreams have been less than memorable.

Government – Necole went to the DMV this morning. There is no reason they should be that slow.

History – I am getting my lecture voice warmed up.

Movies – We watched Batman Begins, and I realized that the guy who plays Joffrey on Game of Thrones was in it.

Music – We have a couple of concerts coming up – Don Williams and The Eagles.

Nature – There’s a great article about sugar in the latest National Geographic. Everyone should read it.

Photography – In a few days, we are getting more wedding photos made.

Rambling Ruminations – I think that is what this post is all about.

Relationships – I’m married.

Religion – I would like to write about it more, but a few things are better left unsaid.

Sports – College football is about to start, and my team, the University of Tennessee, is in the Southeastern Conference. However, you’ll never hear me chant S-E-C. I cheer for one team and hope the other ones lose every week.

Stupid Stuff – It’s an accurate description of this post.

Television – I’m waiting for Justified to crank back up.

Therapy – I used to go. I don’t anymore.

Travel – We just returned from California and will be heading to Arizona soon.

Writing – Am I the only person who doesn’t mess with those writing prompts?

Amber Waves of Grain

8 Aug

After climbing Pompeys Pillar, Lewistown was the next destination of our Montana adventure. Along Highway 87, we passed through communities like Roundup and Grass Range. We also passed through lands scarred by fire. A lady at the baseball game told us that the area had been ravaged by wildfires, and dozens of homes had been destroyed. Also, livestock had to be euthanized due to excessive burns. We had heard nothing about this on the news, and she wasn’t surprised. I believe her quote was, “The only time Montana makes the news is when someone shoots a coyote, and PETA gets upset.”

We made it to Lewistown, and I took a stroll down the main street with my oldest nephew. I felt like we had jumped into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine. Kids were riding bicycles past storefronts filled with toys, appliances and furniture.

I know you can’t see the chairs because they are camouflaged.

There was also a movie house that was 90 years old. I know that because we went into the lobby and asked. It was strange to see a modern superhero movie like The Dark Knight Rises playing in a theater such as this.

I assume it wasn’t the silent version.

As we walked, I began to notice that most of the downtown buildings were adorned with the dates which they were built. Almost all of them were built between 1900 and 1920, and no other commercial buildings, except for McDonald’s, had been built. This was a clue that the town hit its peak in the first decades of the 20th Century and has not grown since. It must have been a thriving community because it was home to a Carnegie Library.

Carnegie was one of the richest people who ever lived, but people still mispronounce his name.

After spending an evening at the Yogo Inn, which sits on the geographic center of Montana, we visited friends who grow wheat and raise cattle near Winifred. The first ranch was only 20,000 acres. I say that because the second ranch was 35,000 acres. They were in the midst of harvesting their crop, so we drove into the wheat field to check it out.

Now this is real farming.

Unfortunately, our SUV did not make it through the field as well as the farming machinery. We got a flat tire.

National Lampoon’s Montana Vacation

We escaped the wheat field and drove to the second ranch, where we were treated to a home-cooked meal. At least, most of us were treated. My youngest nephew wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to eat. He went to the bathroom and threw up before experiencing a Dumb and Dumber moment. The toilet wouldn’t flush, and he went into panic mode. Finally, he was able to get the thing to work.

My oldest nephew rode the harvester until we forced him to leave.

This is not tiddly-winks farming.

What did I learn on the stage of the trip?

1. Farming in central Montana is a tough and isolated way of life.

2. Don’t drive into a wheat field.

3. Be sure a toilet works before using it.