Recently I picked up Oscar from the childcare center at my gym (side note: he loves playing with the toys there so much that he’s practically begging me to go get in shape). I found him playing with a set of plastic tools.
“Mom, what’s this?” he asks, holding up a green toy hammer.
“That’s a hammer.”
“Oh, a hammer! For cooking food!” he exclaims as the babysitter and I start to crack up. She did manage to make the nice observation that a hammer is indeed helpful in the kitchen if you want to tenderize meat.
For some reason a set of plastic tools has not been at the top of our must-have toys for any of our three children. Mostly because, up until a few years ago, my husband didn’t know what most of them were for, either. This fact in no way shames him or seems to hamper his claim on manhood.
I, on the other hand, grew up with a Depression-era farm boy of a father who drilled me regularly on the names and uses of various hand tools. While other girls I knew were mastering a handstand, I was learning the difference between regular old run-of-the-mill pliers and the needle nose variety–and just what in the world a hack saw might be useful for. Later in life this skill served to impress a few boys I dated who tended to know less about tools than I did.
My obscure vein of knowledge was put into practice just about every Saturday for most of my elementary and preteen years as I went out to help Dad with his farm chores. We had a very Green Acres sort of life. My mother, also a Depression-era farm kid, wanted nothing to do with Dad’s little hobby and insisted we live in town. But, she would admit, you can take a boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. Thus Dad and I loaded up with our water jug in whatever old pickup he drove at the time and headed out to see what needed doing at “the place.” I never did understand why he referred to it that way–like some sort of sacred burial ground, make-out post or crime scene.
Out east of town he kept five or 10 acres thriving with every agricultural endeavor he could dream up. Cows, chickens, pigs, ducks, sheep and horses all made up the menagerie at some point in time, along with an insanely bountiful garden and a big field where we’d sow alfalfa to make hay before winter. We’d find lots to look at–from a freaky faced possum caught in a steel trap near the chicken coop (you’ve never lived until you’ve discovered three baby possums in their mother’s pouch)–to the spiky lizards we called “horny toads.” Sadly, I was too young at the time to appreciate the raunchy humor evoked by this name.
People who know me now are amazed at the farm stories I can tell. Maybe it’s because I live a decidedly urban lifestyle for a small-town girl who spent her Saturdays traipsing around fixing fence, gathering eggs and being what my Dad called a “bean-picking kid.”
More than anything they are probably amazed that I managed to marry a man who, on the surface, seems so different from my Dad. One of my favorite stories happens to be about the first time they met. Noah had prepared for the event by buying some nice city-boy ropers. When my Dad suggested they go check out the farm together, he handed him an old pair of Red Wings and said, “Go take off your church boots.”
Though Noah and my dad had vastly different backgrounds and interests, there was one common thread that cinched the deal: they both have a great sense of humor. When Lucy asks me why I married her dad, the fact that he is so funny remains at the top of the list. Which in no way gives him permission to gain a pot belly or grown hair in weird places as he ages, just for the record.
Dad turned 81 recently, and I have to say the years are catching up with him a bit. While lots of time spent working outside and eating homegrown organic vegetables has kept his health better than most, he now has a pacemaker and is starting to forget things easily. Like how to tie his tie for church.
Despite the overexposure to the joys of farm life, I, like my mom, gravitated toward the Zsa Zsa Gabor side of the Green Acres fence. I suppose I just prefer the city and all that goes with it (like people). But now I can see that those Saturdays with Dad left an indelible imprint on me that I want to pass down to my own kids. Plant a garden. Work hard and get a few blisters. Maybe stick some chickens back behind the garage.
And, for God’s sake, buy Oscar some plastic tools. We just might need them in the kitchen.