By G. Michael Dobbs
The moment I’m forced to put in the air conditioners and brace myself for the electric bill I recognize that summer has arrived – even if it is before June 21.
And while that means cleaning up and maintaining the yard – my chores are reduced a bit as we are allowing part of the back yard to go “wild” in order to help pollinators – it is still a season of work.
Cutting the grass and pulling weeds, while somewhat laborious, are nothing like the summers while I was a teen.
Growing up on a small farm meant summer was not exactly a season of recreation. While I was in elementary school certainly there was plenty of leisure, but my life changed when I entered into junior high school.
Summer meant a garden. We had about half an acre or so. That might not sound like very much, but it is.
That meant several tasks. At least once, before planting the garden my dad would hitch a trailer up to one his several tractors and we would go through the garden removing stones. Like much of New England the glaciers of prehistory left a lasting gift – stones – in areas you wanted to cultivate.
That was a bunch of fun. My brother adapted the techniques of asking my dad which rock he should pick up, an exercise that led my dad to banish him to our bedroom where he read comic books and generally enjoyed himself.
I stood there wondering how he managed all that.
Once plants had been placed in the ground the next steps were weeding either by hand or the use of a tool.
Then harvesting would begin. The strawberries came in first. Holy cow that was a love/hate relationship. I loved the fresh strawberries, but I hated the back-breaking work of picking them.
Blueberries were easier to harvest but we had to protect the bushes with a thick layer of tobacco cloth and weigh it down with bricks as the birds quickly realized they could walk under the cloth and eat the berries.
The summer before junior and senior years of high school, I helped my mom deal with the task of processing chickens. My dad, who was getting his master’s degree in the summer, would kill five chickens a day and then I would start plucking. Once the birds were plucked clean, I would assist my mom in the packing of the cut-up birds.
The smell of wet feathers was one that stayed with me for a very long time.
Luckily, we only did that one summer. We also raised our own pork and beef. I had a job of feeing the pigs, who had a large fenced compound in our pine forest. Intelligent and clean, I’d take a long stick and scratch one of hogs along his side. They could clearly enjoy it, often falling in the direction of the stick.
Loading them to go to the slaughterhouse was always traumatic. And yet I ate the pork I had helped raise.
Bailing hay was another summer task. I worked starting my junior year of high school at the Basketball Hall of Fame, the original one on the campus of Springfield College, as a weekend and then summer job. There were many evenings when I got home from work that I would help my dad by picking up bails and putting them in a trailer.
When the hay is ready, you can’t wait.
You might think I’m complaining these many, many years later, but I’m not really. These summers taught me a lot and I’m grateful for the appreciation and respect for farmers that came out of those years.
Still, I wouldn’t have minded going to the beach once or twice.
Enjoy the summer.
Michael Dobbs is the executive editor for Reminder Publishing LLC., and in that role oversees the production of the company’s 10 free community weekly newspapers – the East Longmeadow Reminder, the Agawam Reminder, the Easthampton Reminder, the Holyoke Reminder, the Northampton Reminder, the Amherst Reminder, the Ludlow Reminder, the Monson-Palmer Reminder, the Chicopee Herald and the Westfield Pennysaver – as well as a daily newspaper, the Westfield News, monthly lifestyle magazine Go Local and the monthly publication of Prime.