Down on the Farm: Modern hermits
Across the road on the old Henry Helm place is a little twenty acre field which is now rented by the Amish.
Seventy years ago, Henry, who didn't get his first tractor until the late 1940s, plowed the field with horses. After Henry died, the land was farmed for thirty years by huge tractors which could barely turn around in that little field without tripping over themselves.
Last year, the Amish took over.
Last week, a young Amish lad plowed the field with a team of four plough horses. It took several days. After every few rounds, the young man brought five-gallon pails up to our hydrant and hauled water back to the field for the horses.
Over those days, I learned a lot about the old days just by hearing old-timers share memories jogged by the sight of horses pulling a plow.
I learned that you had to rest the horses every round or so.
I learned that in the old days of small fields and many neighbors, farmers would arrange to rest the horses near the border of the field of a neighbor who was also plowing so they could visit while the horses rested. I can imagine that some of those visits stretched beyond what time the horses needed to rest.
Yes, the old-timers worked hard. But they were also experts at finding ways to mix work with conversation and fun.
Even during hard times, it seemed that people recognized the need to get together. Often. Church was a weekly social occasion. But there were many others.
Using my grandparents as an example, I can't imagine how they got anything else done besides preparing for various meetings.
In addition to church, there was Luther League every month. There was choir practice every Wednesday night. My grandparents met at the temperance union, which met every month. Ladies Aid met once per month, and then served a meal in the church basement which all attended. There was garden club, which met once per month.
Just with these clubs, Grandma and Grandpa were busy at least one out of every four nights per week!
When they went to meetings, I assume they dragged the kids along. The kids would run amok outside, or in the upstairs of the church while the parents fellowshipped downstairs.
No wonder so many neighbor kids married each other. They didn't just go to school together, they spent many evenings per month rioting out back while the parents visited inside. They were practically family already!
Nowadays, such a social schedule would put most people in a mental institution. Back then, however, social activity was a necessary relief from the drudgery of farm work and the congestion in the farm house.
Somewhere between then and now, increased prosperity created a concept which changed everything: privacy.
In the old days, you didn't have privacy. You probably slept with two of your siblings. In the next bed were three more of your siblings. You walked to school with the neighbor kids. You didn't have time alone unless you stole it.
My great-aunt talks of hiding with a book in the barn loft of an abandoned neighboring farmstead. Or, of spending hours with a friend sitting in the only place where they were safe from intrusion: the luxurious two-hole outhouse!
Today, we have more rooms in the house than people who live in the house. We can hide from each other. All day. All month. All year.
Communal meals? Are you kidding? Nobody's on the same schedule. And nobody eats the same thing, either. This food has gluten, that food has lactose, this food is organic, that food is filled with chemical but has no worms.
We have become private, isolated atoms, less connected to each other in face-to-face conversation, eating, work, politics and religion than ever before. We no longer arrange to gossip while plowing--unless you count texting.
There were hermits in the old days, people who removed themselves from the social scene and didn't take part in the community. However, the hermits were regarded as strange. They were feared by children and distrusted by adults.
Today, if you compare us to the old-timers, we're all hermits, hiding from the world in our half-empty homes entertained by electronic gadgets.
Those gadgets need neither water nor rest.