Lessons learned outside of the classroom


The sun had barely begun to appear in the sky that morning when I heard a rustling in the kitchen.

I groaned and turned over on my side, trying to appear as if I was still sleeping on the couch in the living room. I was spending the summer with my aunt and uncle, and the days started pretty early around there.

After hearing the coffee pot creating its magical brew, my uncle began to shake my shoulders, a signal that it was time to rise for the day.

“Five more minutes,” I begged, covering my head up with a quilt

“No, I let you sleep later anyway,” my Uncle Herbert replied, steadily poking my back.

Throwing the quilt back in disgust and stomping my feet on the floor of the single-wide trailer, I made my way into the bathroom to get ready for the day.

“This is torture,” I thought to myself as I brushed my teeth.

I began to envision all my other friends, probably still sound asleep in their beds. And here I was, getting woken up on a couch, before the sun was hardly even up.

After eating a quick breakfast, Uncle Herbert grabbed his familiar cigar and a five-gallon bucket.

“Let’s go,” he said, in too much of a jolly mood for me at this time of day.

We made our way down the gravel driveway toward a makeshift barn at the edge of their property. I already heard them…those dirty pigs.

“It’s like they know we are coming,” I said, kicking a few large rocks ahead of me.

“They know,” Uncle Herbert replied.

Over the next few hours, I spent my morning stepping in mud, feeding hogs. I even had to bottle feed a baby pig who I nicknamed Pork Chop.

I had always expected pigs to be soft, fluffy creatures. But these beasts were hard as a rock with little wire hairs and smelly dispositions.

“No other kid is doing this in all of Adams County right now,” I complained. “Why me?”

“You gotta learn how to work,” Uncle Herbert said. “You can’t be soft. This ain’t nothing.”

From there, we moved on to tending to the rabbits. Watering them, feeding them, checking on their babies that looked like tiny balls of hairless skin.

I grunted the entire time. I began to countdown the days when I could return home, away from all these farm animals. This was no way to live, I thought to myself as I finished up the last row of rabbits.

The remainder of my day was spent at my aunt and uncle’s feed store on Pine Ridge Road. It was a small operation, but it provided feed and seed to the rural community they lived in.

My days were spent sprawled across large bags of dog feed, reading comic books and eating a few Moon Pies they sold at the counter. Every now and then, I would pump gas for some of the elderly people in the neighborhood.

Every night when the sun went behind the bluffs, we closed the store down and headed back home. We would sit down at the kitchen table and eat supper together. Then I would have to wash the dishes before I could settle down into my “couch bed” for the evening. Uncle Herbert insisted on watching Hee Haw and then the news every night before we all turned in.

“It’s the same thing every day,” I said. “We feed animals, head to the store, come home, eat and watch TV. Don’t you get bored?”

“That’s life,” Uncle Herbert replied, with a laugh. “Tend to your business, work, eat and rest.”

I continued that same pattern for several weeks. And I would return every so often…into that same pattern. Some days, I grumbled and complained. But then there were some days, I found myself laughing at Pork Chop. There were days, I took the time to hug a soft rabbit before dumping his food pellets in his cage. There were times when I laughed out loud at my Archie comic so hard that I almost fell off the pile of dog food. And there were some nights, I hid my grin as the sounds of Hee Haw rang through the house.

As an adult, I can say now that those summers weren’t as bad as I made out when I was younger. Those summers taught me a few lessons that I carry with me to this day.

If you’re going to do a job – any job – do it well. Make the most of your time because it’s all you’ve got. Enjoy the simple things like comic books and Moon Pies.

Help your neighbors, especially the elders who deserve their respect.

Sit down as a family and really listen to what each other is saying.

Laugh at the silly things, regardless of how corny you may think they are. And go to bed each night tired, knowing you did a day’s worth of something.

And I didn’t learn those things in a classroom, from television or an expensive video game.

It came from a small farm with a few smelly pigs and hyper rabbits. It came from a hot feed store out in the middle of nowhere. It came from a home with only five rooms.

It came from a time that has passed…but memories that remain.