By Shelley Madden
My Grandfather, Clarence Madden, had no life of luxury back in the late nineteen-thirties. Though he was born with a bad heart, he toiled relentlessly in the fields each day, coaxing crops from the parched soil to feed his wife and four children.
He owned sixty acres of farmland in the heart of Texas. His summer days were spent on an ancient kerosene tractor, which sported a metal seat and matching iron wheels, guaranteed to sizzle your blue jeans into your hide the moment you perched on its throne.
Kerosene in those days was a whopping twelve cents a gallon. It was used to fuel the tractor, and the little cook stove my Grandmother could often be found hovering near, as she dabbed the sweat from her brow. When lunchtime drew near, she’d throw a white pillow on the roof of the low-slung farmhouse porch, signaling granddad it was time to eat.
He’d watch for the pillow from the fields, park the tractor, and drive the half mile home for his meal. The aged car felt like a Cadillac to him, after spending half a day clinging to the bumpy tractor seat.
There was no electricity on the farm, nor did they have the luxury of running water. It was stored in a large wooden barrel, which was kept under the water pump in the front yard. They’d bring a bucketful into the house, and set in on the table to dip from throughout the day, to quench their thirst. The ice man came round once a month, only then would the family indulge in the fine luxury of homemade ice cream.
Bath time consisted of a short trek to the windmill, where they would soak in the large number three washtub beneath, once a week. The oldest kids got the bath first, moving right down the line until the youngest was squeaky clean.
As the temperature soared day after day into the hundreds, the family struggled to stay cool in the little farm house. It was too hot to do much inside, and by bedtime, the heat drove them to the sleeping quarters on the unscreened front porch, where they hoped to catch a rare summer breeze. In those days, a screened porch to sleep under was a luxury. The boys slept under the stars out back, on army cots.
Those kids, nor my Grandma, never complained. They were too eager to begin each day anew, to help out with daily chores, to feed the hogs and cows, and help in the fields and garden. They’d often sneak into the barn loft after shelling peas, and pinch a peanut or two out of the fresh cut peanut hay for a hearty afternoon snack. Back then, they thought they had it made.
When I find myself toiling on my five acre farm in the summer heat, I can’t help but think of my Grandpa, driving his ancient tractor, fighting the heat and the sun and the bugs and the droughts to feed his family, all without a complaint. He had no choice. I do. No one twisted my arm to buy a hobby farm, along with a handful of ponies and poultry.
We now live in the future. An era of electronics and sleek cars and cell phones and fancy kitchen gadgets of every kind to come home to. We have the oh-so-wonderful luxury of air-conditioning in our homes and cars. We don’t have to throw a pillow on the porch at lunchtime to call Grandpa home. We have a means to escape the heat now, unlike our forefathers in summers past.
As I ride my little tractor with a cushioned seat in the summer sun, I think the mowing will never end. I stop for a moment to wipe my brow, and gaze into the horizon. When I peer through the clouds, I can see granddad on his ancient iron chariot in the sky, blazing across the heavens as he plows its barren acres into a bountiful harvest. He will inspire me to get through this wretched heat. His strength will be my strength.
If he could do it with what he had back then, then I know I can do it with what I have now. As hard as it is, I won’t fret about the heat, and the mowing and the seemingly endless outdoor chores. Because I know I can crawl into my house when the sizzling sun finally sets, and enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning, and a refreshing indoor shower.
And, maybe even the quenching coolness of store-bought ice cream.
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