When I think back to my upbringing in Tennessee, I remember the long days of summer spent working in the garden and fishing and swimming in the rivers and creeks. Growing up on a small farm in rural Tennessee allowed me to be surrounded by nature, lush fields, and the smell of honeysuckle and wildflowers. The stillness and tranquility are something that I crave today.
I lived on a dirt road that would leave a cloud of dust when someone would drive by. My brothers and I would ride our bikes down to our grandparents’ house and would play on the swing that my Paw Paw (my dad’s father) built. There was also a huge mimosa tree that we would climb and pick the leaves or play with the seed pods that covered the ground. We would ride our bikes up and down the road and through the fields, just as far as our legs would take us. Houses were far apart, and we lived twenty minutes from the main town. Life was quiet, serene and secluded.
Swimming in Piney
People that would rent my aunt’s house next door would always talk about how beautiful the landscape was down on the farm and it was hard for me to see the beauty in the moment because it was what I had always known. I can remember at a really young age working in the garden on Saturday morning when most kids were watching cartoons. We had to get up early to beat the sweltering sun that would easily cause us to overheat.
When we finished, we would beg our Dad to take us swimming. We piled up in the back of his pickup truck with our towels and innertubes in hand. The wind from riding in the open air would tangle my hair. We swam in the Piney River that was like a large creek. It was super cold at first and the rocks on the bottom of the riverbed would get smoother as we walked further into the stream. My mom did not know how to swim, and my father could swim under water and would sneak up on us and pull us into the deep end. His father threw him into the river as a young boy to teach him how to swim.
Harvesting to Feed the Family and Livestock
As the summer progressed, we would harvest the vegetables we grew such as beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, cabbage, carrots, and onions. We would give some of our produce away and my mom would can or freeze the rest. These vegetables would help provide food for us during the winter. Sometimes my dad grew potatoes and would dig them up with a plow and we would pick them up from the dirt. It was easy to mistake a rock for a potato at first glance. My Paw Paw had a dirt cellar under his house where we would store the potatoes during the winter. The dark, cool, dirt floor kept the potatoes from spoiling.
There was also work in the fields where my dad grew corn and harvested hay. My allergies kept me away from a lot of that work and my brothers would be upset that they had to work hauling hay more than I did. Sometimes my dad would start the tractor and I would drive the trailer around the field while my brothers loaded hay. Other times, I would drive the pickup truck instead. Hay was lifted by an elevator and my brothers would stack the hay up in the loft of the barn. My dad would harvest fields of corn after it had dried and would store it in an old shed near my grandparent's house. We would shuck the corn and run it through some type of shelling machine that would strip the kernels off the cob. He would then take it to the CO-OP to ground it into feed for our cattle and pigs.
Going Above and Beyond to Take Care of the Livestock
Taking care of livestock was hard work. Yes, cattle roam and eat forage in the pasture but there were times in the summer that we didn’t get as much rain and they would need to have their food supplemented. In the winter the livestock would require more feed because the cold weather required them to store more energy and the cold temperatures would kill vegetation in the pasture. Then my dad also doctored the livestock which included castrating the young bull calves, delivering calves and medicating their pink eye. This would require us to get the cattle that needed to be doctored from the field to the corral. The whole family would go out into the field, spaced out wide as we stretched out our arms while slowly narrowing our width to get the cattle into the corral. We could not approach the cattle too quickly, because they would get scared and run in between us. Then we would have to start all over again. Sometimes every now and then a cow or pig would find a hole in the fence and getting them back in was a hard task. My dad also had to pull cattle from the river bottom below the field when they would get stuck.
There were also moments that were unique. Like the one Christmas Eve the temperature outside was below freezing and a pig had new little piglets. They needed to stay warm, so my dad brought down a barrel, heat lamp and an extra box with the little piglets into our living room next to our wood stove that we used for heating the house. I can remember waking up to hearing the piglets escaping the box and their hooves tapping on the floor. That is one of my favorite Christmas memories. At one time we had chickens and a few roosters. There was an old rooster that would get beat up by the younger roosters and he would hang out in my window seal to hide from them. I was little and would open the window to pet him without my parents knowing. I have always had a love for animals, and I think growing up on a farm is why.
Longing to Get Back to My Roots
I wish back then that I knew how rich we were in that we were surrounded by life in so many forms. The crickets chirping at night, the frogs bellowing near the pond while the lightning bugs illuminated the field behind our house at dusk. After a hard day’s work outside, taking in the sounds, smells and the star-lit sky was my calming meditation. Behind our house was the open field where my dad raised cattle and the Duck River flowed in eyesight just below. At night, I would go and sit on our deck facing the field and would gaze at the stars and become entranced by the vastness of our universe. That was my happy place.
Life is much different for me now. I visit Tennessee when I can, but the pandemic has made it harder to travel. Although I enjoy living closer to the convenience of food and entertainment in the city, I long for a peaceful night where I can step outside and see the stars instead of the back of houses.
I miss being able to take a stroll down the road where the chert would crunch under my feet instead of walking on hot asphalt. Being close to family was a treasure and granted me so many special memories that is hard to envision experiencing today. Like the times my grandparents would have us over for watermelon and we would eat it by the slice and spit out the seeds on the ground. It is hard imaging doing that today as I live miles away from family. There is something about living in the country. Maybe it is the slower pace of life, the closeness of family and community. I will get back there someday.
When you mentioned Piney river it reminded me of the road, known as the bluff road.
To have an alternate route to Taylor’s Creek Rd, Daddy, Earnest, Amos, and Henry Nicks petitioned the County for the material and equipment to build a road by widening the ledge around the bluff above Piney river.
The equipment was a mule pulled road grader, and dynamite as needed.
Earnest’s son and I about ten or twelve years old hung around, heard Earnest, (self appointed) yell “fire in the hole” and observed, and listened to the explosions and resulting spattering of limestone pebbles, it seemed like for a minute.
The result was a road built around the bluff and Improved to Henry’s place, and up Chapel Hollow, (Hollar) to Pea Ridge where Grandpaw and Grandmaw Redden lived, and to Rockfield Church of Christ.
This is so beautifully written. It is well that you took the time to write it; as it will be special to your beautiful daughter. I always loved coming to visit your family on the farm. One of my favorite memories was the family Hayride we had on the country roads. It is a treasured memory. Farming is difficult, but as you so aptly stated has so many rewards.
I’ll never forget my vacations up there. I thought ya’ll were crazy swimming in that cold river but it was fun. I remember grandma heating water on the stove and bathing us in a big metal bucket when we were little and I thought it was so cool to climb a ladder down from the house into the root cellar. And of course the outhouse at the church was a new experience for me too lol. The winding dirt roads with mountains going up on one side and gullys falling down on the other side was exillerating and beautiful. I miss going up there. Take a left at bucksnort junction.