FIRST THINGS

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The wagon-load of rocks

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If Arkansas is known for anything, it's rocks. Lots of rocks. Sure, plenty of cotton and rice farmers in that state's fertile delta region would laugh when asked if their rich bottomland was rocky, but it's no joke to Ozark Mountain folks who try to turn steep, rock-strewn hills into pastures.

My grandpa's Arkansas farm was no different. Like many farmers in the late 20th century, he tended the farm when not working as a rural postal carrier. That meant milking the cow and feeding chickens and hogs before dawn, then heading out on his mail route. When the letters were delivered, it was back to farm chores before darkness fell and bedtime came.

Understandably, he needed all the help he could get to keep up with the 120-acre place. My grandma and uncle were always willing to lend a hand, but even their hard work wasn't enough, especially when it came time to clear the pasture of a seemingly endless supply of rocks.

That's where I came in, for better or worse. During summers as a boy, I'd spend time on the farm and help with everything I could manage. To Grandpa, the biggest help I could give was picking up rocks. Naturally, I hated the work, but he promised to pay me 2 cents a rock. With rocks lying everywhere on the farm, I did the math and accepted the chore with greedy hopes of lining my pockets.

Grandpa fired up the 1950 Farmall Cub that he'd bought in the late 1970s, and drove the tractor slowly across the pasture as I followed and tossed rocks into the wagon behind. After a few passes, the wagon was nearly full but the field still looked like a virtual moonscape. More than a little frustrated, I kept walkin' and tossin', as Grandpa kept drivin', but there always seemed to be the same number of rocks.

In the end, I got $40 for my effort, a fortune for a boy like me. I also got a sore back, callused hands and a good lesson about hard work. Best of all, I got to spend time with Grandpa, following the Farmall.

Jason B. Harmon, Editor jharmon@ogden pubs.com