As a native of Moriah, North Carolina, I have lived in the community all but the past four years while attending Ferrum College in Virginia. Ferrum is about three hours from my home in Carolina, and as college career studying agriculture progressed, I find myself going home less and less. Life is busy, and many responsibilities require my time. So going home has become somewhat of a special event that I thoroughly look forward to, especially this time of year because the holiday season has finally arrived.
Two of my favorite holidays fall in the month of November: Thanksgiving and the opening day of deer season. While the second one may not be considered a “real” holiday, any hunters out there reading this will understand where I am coming from. (To all the non-hunters reading this, unfortunately you will never understand. Sorry.)
But let’s focus on Thanksgiving, which is probably my favorite holiday out of the year. I love everything about it, including the food, the fellowship, and the crisp cool Carolina breeze that blows across the fields and front porches this time of year. Of all of the reasons I love Thanksgiving, the one that means the most to me is the time that it gives me to spend with my family and loved ones. Family is important to me, and it always has been. I often don’t get to see a lot of my more distant family except on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is wonderful to see the cousins who I grew up with and to learn what they are doing in their lives — and to watch them succeed at what they are passionate about. It is also wonderful to sit around and laugh and just feel the love that comes from this fellowship with one another. To know that even though we live in separate places and have unique lives, we have a group of people that we can come to who love us, in a place that we are all connected with and know so well.
While fellowship with my family is my favorite thing about Thanksgiving, there is one element about the fellowship that means more to me than anything else: listening to the older generation talk about the “Good Ol’ Days.”
I come from a tobacco farming family, and besides myself, no one from my generation has anything to do with tobacco (or farming in general, for that matter). I was the only child who was interested in it, and I got the crazy idea at a young age that I wanted to be a farmer and tend the land.
For the older people in my family, including my mother’s generation, they had no choice about whether they wanted to be involved in farming. Farming was their way of life, a necessity to get by, and they were forced to do all the labor that went along with raising a crop of tobacco. To hear them tell the stories of the hard work that they had to do in the fields day in and day out, and to hear of all the good times they had making the best out of what life had dealt them warms my heart. To see and hear of the perseverance they had when times weren’t so good makes me proud to know that I come from such a hardworking and dedicated people. To hear how my grandmother and grandfather used to have to walk behind a mule, plowing a single row, and comparing that to the tractors and four row cultivators and other implements that we use in the industry today amazes me. It makes me thankful for all the advances in agricultural that have been developed.
When I think I’m having a hard day at work, I just remember how rough that they had it and realize things aren’t nearly as bad as they could be. Listening to these stories and being able to talk with them about how my season went in the fields this year and how our tobacco crop this year turned out, helps to bridge a generational gap that I believe has become a problem in many modern families. While the technology in tobacco production has changed immensely over the past few decades, the basic concepts are still the same — so we are all on the same page when talking about tobacco production and the work that goes into it.
Furthermore, the practical knowledge that can be pulled from these older people who once did the same thing that I am doing now is incredible. I have learned far more about farming and agriculture sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, just listening to my uncles and older cousins talk, than I have from any of the textbooks I have studied over the years.
The most important thing I want to stress about spending time with your family this Thanksgiving is to not take the time you spend with the people you love for granted. I want to stress this to you because sadly you can never know when the Lord may take a family member away from you. I lost my grandmother the summer before I came to college, and there isn’t a Thanksgiving or any other day that goes by that I don’t wish I could have one last conversation with her or listen to her tell one more story. Her stories about the way she grew up with her six siblings in a small rundown cabin in Granville County, North Carolina, stories about my grandfather and his brothers farming, or just stories about living the simple country life she did are forever cataloged in my mind. But once again I’d give anything to add just one more to the archives.
Remember to take time with the people you love and listen to what they have to say, and keep passing those stories on for future generations to enjoy. Keep the spirit of tradition and your family alive. This Thanksgiving, sit down and enjoy a big plate of home-cooked food, and don’t forget to let your loved ones know how much they mean to you, while enjoying the time that you get to spend together. Be thankful for where you are, because you are always right where you’re supposed to be.
Spencer Irby is a tobacco farmer from Moriah, North Carolina, and attends Ferrum College, where he is getting a degree in Agriculture. He will graduate in 2017.