The Plough Guy
by Lisa W. Roesing of South Russell, OH
Jeff and I ran out of the house! It was spring and we left our shoes, long sleeved shirts, jackets, in the house. The cool, Maine spring air greeted my bare skin as if to say “hey there, where ya been?” My skin responded with goose bumps. Mom would probably screech at us, but we didn’t care. She’d be hard to hear over Papa’s tractor. When I went to cross the gravel driveway it kind of hurt my tender feet. By the end of summer though, I could not only run up the gravel driveway without wincing, I could walk all the way downtown from the beach on the blistering blacktop to get an Italian sandwich for lunch. I made it across the driveway. Papa had left his Band-Aid can on the rock. Jeff grabs it and we meet at the end of the garden.
I roll up my pant legs and hop down into the deep furrow. It’s cool on the bottom of my feet and as I take my first steps, it feels almost alive only because it is. The clean fresh smell of newly turned earth surrounds me. Just as soon as it does, the warm spring wind blows and starts to turn the black, moist earth dry and gray. We run the length of the furrow. In order to fill the Band-Aid can we need to be right behind the plough. The smell of Papa’s cigarette drifts back to greet us. He turns his head to acknowledge our presence, or maybe he was just checking to see how straight his furrow was. The tractor is loud pop…pop…pop, and the earth quivers under its large wheels. Papa turns it around at the end of the garden for another swipe. We fall in right behind him with our heads bent down watching the earth at our feet, which are by now black. I bend down and pick up my first earthworm and drop it into the Band-Aid can. Jeff reaches for one that has already made for the darkness. He pulls and pulls until it is just about as long as Jeff is tall. I was afraid it would break, but it didn’t and Jeff drops his first worm into the can. Just like Papa taught us we sprinkle a little loam over them to keep them happy and cool. We had the can full prior to getting to the end of the furrow. Papa told us once before to pick up the rocks as well and leave them at the end of each row. This only lasted for a few furrows until we got tired (bored) of it and decided to go ride our bikes. We place his Band-Aid can back on the rock at the corner of the garden. We would wait until after dinner time and Papa’s nap and then make our way to Grams to see if he was ready to go fishing.
In later years, Pa would try his hand at plowing with the horses. I’ll never forget the first time he hitched the horses to the sulky plough. Perhaps he first tried a walking plough, but that was not as memorable. This one had a metal seat with handles and levers coming out behind and around him, and large metal wheels. When he lowered the handles (which is slightly difficult from a seated position), it lowered the blade onto the hard earth. Then, when the horses are asked to move forward, the forward motion, the weight of the machine and the driver, lowers the blade into the earth and a furrow is created. Being a little scared for his safety and my own, I helped him hitchup, and headed back to the barn. A loud commotion sounded right before I made it to the barn. Turning around, I high-tailed it back to the top of the hill, just in time to witness the team galloping across the field. Pa was still on this metal seat bouncing away, and pulling on his reins with all his might. The reins were probably the only reason he was still on the plough. He looked like a Roman gladiator on his chariot and I found myself starting to snicker. The team was scared out of their minds at the contraption chasing them. Things like this happened frequently when we first started training draft horses. I think everyone who has horses goes through it, and it was probably one of the reasons why my dad started the Farmers Draft Horse Club. We were able to finish plowing the garden and he even harrowed it with the team. I helped him with cultivating by riding Beth as he drove from behind. The only stocks of corn that got stepped on were at the end of the row, when we tried to turn around. I really didn’t do much but hold onto the hames of the harness. I think Pa just wanted me in the garden with him. I wasn’t complaining though, at least he wasn’t making me pick rocks.
I now live in Ohio and very near one of the largest Amish communities. I’m not only nearby, but I drive out into their farm country almost every day to drop my daughter off at a farm where her horse is boarded. A couple of days ago, as I was driving by one Amish farm, Abbie exclaimed, “Look, they’re plowing!” I slowed my Jetta to a crawl and took in the sight. The past two days I’ve kept an eye on them. Yesterday they were plowing five up, three on the wheel and two up front. Today I saw four abreast and before I could slow my car down from 45 to 15 mph, another team of six came out into the road in front of me to turn around. Both teamsters waved to me as I passed. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a young girl in the middle of the freshly ploughed field. She stood deep in a furrow with something in her hands. I like to think she had a can of worms. I do know without a doubt she didn’t have any shoes on, and that tonight when she got out of her tub, the water would as black as the earth her father had just turned.
The plough guy is close to my heart. I miss getting my bare feet in a furrow as the earth goes back to work. I wonder what my Amish neighbor would do if I pulled over my Jetta, took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my pant legs and fell in behind his plough. He might shake his head, but I think he would understand. He would probably stop his team and look behind him and recognize a 38 year-old farmer’s daughter and say, “Well, if you’re gonna walk in my furrow you might as well be helpful and pick up some rocks.” I’ll let you know how it works out.
Dedicated to Earl Hill. Thank you, for reminding me of the other plough guys in my life.