The Rest of the Story
Clint wrote this to go in the paper five years ago as you can see from the title below. He is talking about ramps and I just this weekend had a ramp meal from one of our local fire departments and the ramps they were serving came from the same spot that Clint was talking about in his funny farm story. It is amazing how fast time goes by and yet how things remain the same. May his good humor and legacy continue for many years to come. And yes, we will be planting cane, God willing, again in a few weeks.
Funny Farm – May 2014
This coming September will mark four years since I departed Harrell Hill Farms, aka “The Funny Farm,” to begin writing The Blue Ridge Christian News. I am astonished, as you should be that I still have stories to share having spent only six months on the farm. But I do…so here we go again!
Farmer Doug’s Warning
Farmer Doug had already planted his sorghum cane by the time I got around to knowing the difference between a hoe and a shovel. But he started chiding/warning me very early on, “Just wait ‘til we get into the cane fields this fall. You will swing that hatchet so many times your shoulder will feel like it’s gonna fall off!” Then he would give me that funny Farmer Doug smile.
Now I did spend much of the summer weeding and fertilizing the cane patches; one of them was on the side of a mountain behind A.D. “Daddy D’s” house and I’m tellin’ ya, that sucker was straight up and down. When I was dispatched there to weed the rows I felt like I was having to walk straight up a wall! Seriously, I thought I needed crampons just to hold my fat-self on that hill…but somehow managed to stay upright…at least most of the time.
Fully exposed to the baking sun, I walked – or should I say crawled – row to row, seeking weeds to pull. As I meandered among the stalks I began counting them – there were at least a gazillion on that mountain alone. Not to mention the cane across the river, or the patch over by Rachael Roberts’ house, or the HUGE field near the farmhouse, among others. In my mind I conjured up an image of me and a pocketknife snipping those stalks one-by-one. “Ain’t no way,” I opined only to myselfJ.
It didn’t help that every night, shortly before bedtime, Doug would remind me, “Just you wait…the cane harvest will be here before you know it.” As the months passed and my farmer confidence grew I would chide back, “I ain’t skeered of cuttin’ cane, dude!” But, to be completely honest, I was anxious and filled with dread about the prospects. Please, help me Jesus, I did not want to have to gnaw down acres and acres of sorghum with a scalpel!
Digging Ramps With Farmer Larry
Early one morning, before the chickens were even awake – I believe it was early to mid-April – Farmer Doug said, “Well, today I promised Larry (his brother) that you and Josh would help him dig ramps.” (Josh is one of Doug’s GIANT grandsons that often drops-by for extended visits). What the heck did he – Farmer Doug – think I was? Did he mistake me for an indentured servant, for heaven’s sake? Oh yeah, I kinda was an indentured servant J. In any event, I had no idea what he was talking about but replied with a cheery “Okey dokey, then!”
When told that I would spend the day “digging ramps” I thought we would be working at a church fixin’ up wheelchair access points. Everyone in the world knows that a RAMP is something you roll onto, a device with a sloping surface that allows access from one level to a higher or lower level, or raises something up above floor or ground level. After all, I had been a corporate executive and I knew that a RAMP is a movable set of stairs used for boarding or disembarking from an aircraft. Heck I had logged more than 4,000,000 million miles on American Airlines alone…I knew what a RAMP was! Or did I?
But I didn’t ask how one goes about “digging ramps” because I didn’t want to appear stupid…which, as we now know, I really was!
Farmer Larry fetched Josh and me shortly after our farm breakfast, buckwheat pancakes and sweet sorghum molasses expertly prepared by Farmer Doug, and away we went. And he drove us into the wilderness someplace, I know not where, and got out of the truck carrying a back of something. He told us to follow.
Now I’m thinking, why in the world would you dig a RAMP out here? There’s nobody to use that danged thing, and even if someone needed it, how would you roll a wheelchair up through these woods? But I kept my mouth shut so as not to appear ignorant…which, as we now know, I really was! We walked into the forest, all the while I’m trying to get my brain around this latest farm puzzle.
The “All-Purpose” Hatchet
Young Josh and I dutifully followed Farmer Larry, like two little puppies, into the woods. We were joking back and forth, not sure what the dickens we were doing out here. When all of a sudden Farmer Larry stopped and told us to have a seat; we pulled up our piece of dirt and squatted on the ground.
Larry opened his mysterious bag and reached in to reveal the secret stash…out comes about 6 little tiny hatchets…smaller than any I’d ever seen. And he said, “Here’s your tool.” I mused, to myself alone, “My tool for WHAT?” He went on, “By the way, Clint, this is the cane axe too. Wait ‘til you have to chop all that sorghum down, stalk-by-stalk!”
I just looked at Farmer Larry, not sure how to respond, and replied, “Yeah, Doug and I have already been over all that.” I really wanted to appear farm savvy and smart…which, as we now know, I really wasn’t!
Anyway, he went on to explain that we were gathered in search of huge quantities of RAMPS…not wheelchair steps, not airplane departure steps, but RAMPS. He told us that Ramps are considered a spring delicacy, a wild onion of sorts, and even a reason for celebration. Heck they even have Ramp Festivals in some of our communities.
Larry compared the flavor and odor of ramps to a combination of onions and garlic, and the garlic odor is particularly strong. He joked about how the kids used to eat a bunch of ramps before school so the teacher would send them home because they stunk! “Oh goodie,” I thought, as we began bending over to pick/dig the stinky plant.
Truth-be-told, the morning digging ramps was fun…the air was cool and the sun didn’t penetrate the forest canopy; and I enjoyed Farmer Larry and GIANT grandson Josh’s company. And I picked and I picked, and I picked some more RAMPS.
But, most important, I finally had firsthand knowledge of the tool with which I would mow down the sorghum cane! It looked like an axe for itsy bitsy people. Heaven help me.
And Then Came The Day Of Harvest
Sure enough the day came to begin the sorghum cane harvest. Farmer Doug, wry/crooked smile and all, said, “Well Pollard, this is the day you’ve been looking forward to.” I sneered as we left the farmhouse for the fields; anticipating the worst day of my long life.
He handed me one of the ramp digging/pulling-cane chopping, itsy bitsy axes and began his obligatory “lesson” before setting me free to begin work. “Do this, don’t do that…be careful of this…don’t do that…swing it like this, not like that…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And off I went.
I chopped and I chopped and I chopped…stalk-to-stalk…fighting off yellow jackets, watching for man-eating groundhogs, hoping no brown recluse spiders were hiding in the cane. I swung and I chopped, for what seemed hours, and tried my best to keep pace with Farmer Doug.
That’s another beef I have with this Mitchell County Farm Legend, he’s seven years my senior yet whizzes by me like a speeding bullet when doing farm chores. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR L.
The good news is that the chop, chop, chop wasn’t nearly as paralyzing as I’d prepared my psyche for it to be. But ya get halfway through a row and ya gotta pick the stuff up and carry it to the truck. More about the truck in a minute.
Doug would later laugh and say, “It’s not as bad as I had you thinking, is it?” My reply, “Duh, why did you scare me like that?” It seems he wanted me to be prepared for the worst so that I would be pleasantly surprised. Yet, don’t get me wrong, it is HARD, TEDIOUS, BACK-BREAKING work to be sure.
DANGER In The Chevy Pick-Up!
I finally got into the swing of using that axe and was making pretty good time harvesting cane – at least as far as getting it on the ground. But there was the matter of our friend who was driving the truck…that would be Daddy D Harrell.
As we chopped, chopped and bent over to pick up the stalks, Daddy D was supposed to move the truck, either forward or backward to ease our loading the product. Well, Daddy D’s eyesight, hearing and reflexes weren’t as good as they once were. So, every now and then we would have to fly into a ditch to avoid being run over by an out-of-control Chevy pick-up.
Daddy D would ride the clutch, at least, so sometime you’d hear the truck lurch forward or backward BEFORE IT SMASHED INTO YOU…that was the good news. The bad news is that if you didn’t hear him coming and you’d shout out a warning, there was no way he could hear you. Farmer Doug warned, “The most important thing is to keep an eye on Dad. He would die if he hurt one of us…and he could.” Holy smokes, not only do I have to swing a butter knife at a cane stalk, fight off aggressive bees and all manner of other grouchy critters, now I need to guard against being squished by Daddy D. Whew, what a special day this is!
Well, with but a few “near-misses” by the careening Chevy pick-up, I survived the first day of the cane harvest…and subsequent days. Why, even up until the day of making molasses God protected me and I came through that sorghum season with nary a scratch. It was a blessing and a major miracle!
PS Farmer Clint Is Gone – I Think I’ll Automate!
The very next year, in the fall of 2011, Farmer Doug decided he didn’t want to chop, chop, chop sorghum cane any longer. After all, I don’t have my “Pack-mule Farmer Clint” here to help me so I think I’ll automate the process! And that he did.
The rascal went out and bought some kind of chopper downer thing a-ma-bob which connects to the tractor and mows down several rows of cane at a time…without need for itsy bitsy hatchets. It is an amazing tool…far better than anything I ever was allowed to use.
I asked Farmer Doug, shortly after he acquired the newfound miracle of mechanization, “Um, how come you didn’t have this last season?” And, he replied, “I didn’t need it last season, I had you.” And he smiled, that wry/crooked Farmer Doug smile, and I said, “Okey dokey, then!” J
Humbled in the hills,