Farm kids are some of the hardest working young people I know, and in my close to four decades in northern Maine, I’ve known a number of them.
They are up at dawn working alongside their siblings and parents tackling the myriad of chores associated with farming or homesteading. They plant, they weed, they harvest, they help process the bounty of those harvests. They tend animals, they run errands they assist with the housework. Yet somehow, they manage to find time in those busy schedules to get into the kind of mischief only found on farms.
It’s the kind of shenanigans to which any farm parents can relate, and for the sake of those involved, the names of the mischief-makers shall remain anonymous.
Like the two brothers I have watched growing up from rambunctious youngsters to fine young men with kids of their own.
I wonder if those kids would be surprised to learn of the day their fathers and uncles thought it would be a good idea to head down to the family barn in the middle of harvest when all the adults were occupied elsewhere. Once there, for reasons never explained, they thought it would be a good idea to let the air out of the tires on every tractor, harvester and other vehicle they could find.
Then, for good measure, they took the valve stems out of each and every tire.
They might have gotten away with it, too, had they not been caught with all those valve stems jangling in their pockets.
These two were always up to something as kids, driving their stay-at-home mom to distraction. Years later she confessed to me that one day she’d had enough of their wandering off in search of trouble.
“I couldn’t keep them at home no matter how much I scolded them,” she said. “So I put a harness on each of them and tied them to a tree in the backyard.”
The more I thought of that, the funnier it got.
Some years later, when these two were close to their pre-teen years, they ran afoul of yours truly. The details of their youthful transgression are not important. What is important is that their parents marched them to my house, sat them down on my couch and invited me to have at it.
I can’t remember the exact contents of the tongue lashing I delivered, but according to their dad, they have never forgotten it.
And there was there ever the need to repeat it.
Another time years ago, our neighbors’ daughter was feeling most aggrieved that her dad would not take her into the potato fields during the height of the annual harvest. She was about 4 years old at the time and decided to take matters into her own hands.
I actually saw this as it unfolded — I was on my way home and ended up behind my neighbor driving a flatbed farm truck that was needed in the fields. Clinging for her life on a small ledge on the exterior of the back of the cab, was his daughter.
Had she fallen off at any point, the rear wheels of the truck likely would have crushed her.
Before I had time to react, my late husband — who had spotted the girl from where he had been working in the barn as the truck passed — zoomed past me in his vehicle, overtook the truck and motioned for our neighbor to stop.
His reaction to seeing his daughter on that tiny ledge was equal parts terror and anger — emotions I suspect any parent would understand. Other than a good fright, the youngster was not hurt and to my knowledge, never, ever attempted such a stunt again.
A friend of mine grew up on a northern Maine farm and tells the story of the day he spotted a set of keys dangling from a tractor’s ignition.
“What kid doesn’t like to play with keys?” He said. “Of course I took them and needless to say they never made it back into the ignition, causing great confusion among the adults.”
Then there are those times when it’s the adults who are the catalyst for a kid getting into trouble.
One day on a neighboring farm one of the hired hands was teasing the young son of the farmer. I mean really going at the kid who was doing his best to help the grownups in the barn. After a half day or so of this and turning the other cheek numerous times, the kid had enough. He silently marched up to the hired hand, hauled off and kicked him in the shins for all he was worth. This kid was small, but he packed a pretty good wallop and the teasing ended then and there.
Yeah, these kids got into plenty of trouble growing up. But they have also become some of the finest people I know.
I just hope their own kids are giving it back in good measure.