Growing up, my mother — like so many farm moms — often told me how stubborn I was. Depending on the day, she either meant it in a negative way or just realized she was raising a mini version of herself. I was an independent child, so I never saw her remarks as a negative. I figured things out on my own and let nothing hold me back, just like my dad taught me.
As a lifelong farmer, whenever there was a problem on the farm, my dad would stop for nothing until the resolution presented itself. He would never give up when the tractor was causing a problem or when the header was giving him issues during harvest. Baling wire was always in the back seat to help fix tricky situations. That stubbornness was passed down to us — and it has manifested itself in a variety of ways.
For example, with many farm kids, learning how to drive starts much sooner than your 15th birthday. Often, it is on an old dirt road riding on your dad’s lap because your feet can’t touch the peddles. I begged Dad to let me drive every opportunity I got. As thrilled as he was to teach me how to drive, I also remember him gripping the seat tightly, saying, “Slow down!” Whoops.
The public often sees farm life painted as a whimsical, magical place, where everything goes as planned. The reality is enough to earn a full-throated chuckle. One of my “fondest” memories I have is helping my dad lay poly pipe bags to irrigate the crops. I was 11 and had been helping him lay poly pipe one hot June day.
We had just finished laying the last roll, and I eagerly volunteered to drive the truck back to the well to shut it off. Being a stubborn farm girl, I was determined to reverse the truck down the entirety of the half-mile dirt road all by myself. The poly pipe we were using was made of plastic material (I think you see where I am going with this.) As I was reversing, I knew I was getting close to the bag, so like any good young driver, I shifted back into drive and pulled forward … or so I thought. It was still in reverse (good ol’ work truck’s gear stick was broken), and I ended up backing over the freshly laid poly pipe. The bag immediately impersonated Niagara Falls with the gushing water. As I peered through the rear-view mirror, my dad slammed his hands down on the tail gate and slung together many choice words.
Fear, frustration, and disappointment ran through my veins instantly. However, that was the single greatest learning moment in my life. Although my dad was upset that a day’s worth of work was undone in an instant, so much else was imparted from him that day. First, no matter what, try again. You don’t become stubborn by giving up easily. He told me on the way home, “You can’t let this get you down. You have to get back on the horse.”
Secondly, and most importantly, he taught me how to handle problems that are out of our control. Granted, he had some colorful words in the heat of the moment, but after that — and after shutting off the water — he was more worried about his daughter and what to do next. In that moment he taught me no matter how big your problem, take a breath and look at it with clear eyes. The next day, with leftover pipe, we put in a splice and finished the job.
The stubbornness us farm kids grew up with go hand in hand with our work ethics. We don’t get awards for participation, we build pride for completion. We can take a break once harvest is done, once the chores are finished, or once we helped our parents (although there was always more to be done).
When I was in young, our teacher would get onto those kids who would stare out the window. She would say, “No one is going to pay you to look out a window.” Looks like she was wrong about one thing; I guess that phrase meant more with no-cab tractors.
Looking out the window taught me to look at things from a different perspective, helping me to solve the seemingly unsolvable. When there was an obstacle in our way, we didn’t retreat, we learned to face the problem head on. So, while we may be stubborn and hard-headed, with a little time, we will get this, we will finish the job. Some may see this as a flaw, not knowing when to give up, but I see it as a strength. Never give up and always complete the task you were given.
I would also like to think that being a stubborn farm kid led to respect. If I ever disrespected my parents or grandparents, I knew instantly with the look on my mother’s face. God-forbid if she started shaking her teacher finger at me.
Most importantly, being a stubborn farm kid taught me loyalty. I have always loved working with others and seeing the kindness and compassion in people. My stubbornness has taught me many things, but one of the most important is to not give up on something or someone. Many of our communities survive off neighborly support. Be there for someone, especially when they need it most. Loyalty above all else helps strengthen the world around you.
So next time you see a strong-minded, stubborn farm kid, smile. The kids are surely smiling, too. Their parents worked hard to teach them the lessons of life and the lessons you can only learn on the farm.