to eke out a meager life. Now I
scribble in comfort.
Notes: I have to go all the way back to England in the 1600s to find an ancestor who had a desk job. To the best of our family research, my great-great-great (etc.) grandfather was a clergyman back in the old country, who had the poor judgment to raise the ire of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In those days it didn’t take much to get your head separated from the rest of you. Heretics and troublesome free thinkers could easily meet the same fate.
My forebear wised up in the nick of time and caught one of next boats after the Mayflower to the New World. We are not sure if he stayed in the preaching business in his new surroundings in the Connecticut Colony, but as far as we can tell, all of those who followed him were dirt farmers. (Which probably seemed like a safer line of work back then.)
Several generations later, after my great grandfather Frederick Ball narrowly survived the Civil War, he came back home to find Connecticut getting crowded. So, he headed west for the promise of cheap land and opportunity. He wound up in southern Iowa, got married, acquired some land, and raised a family.
One of his sons was my grandfather, and he, too became a farmer, moving to Missouri to chase opportunity. When my father came along, he showed considerable mechanical aptitude and had hopes of going to school to study engineering. But the Great Depression dashed those dreams. Dad had to drop out of school before he finished high school. To help support the family he became a farmer.
And who knows, except for a twist of fate or two, I might have followed right along and farmed myself.
But my father had a bit of a mid-life crisis in his 40s. When I was in first grade, he sold the farm and went in with his brother-in-law and a neighbor to buy a Ford Tractor dealership. It was his one big entrepreneurial gamble in life. And for a few years, it looked like it might pay off.
But some lean times for farm prices and some skullduggery by the neighbor-turned-business-partner, and the operation went broke. They had to sell out cheap, and Dad was forced to fall back on his mechanical skills to make a living.
What this meant for me was that I spent most of my formative years in the town rather than on the farm. So, while there were centuries of agrarian instincts bred into me, it didn’t take me long to adapt to indoor plumbing, central heating, and really close next-door neighbors.
And I certainly didn’t miss getting up early to gather eggs, milk the cow, or slop the pigs.
Oh sure, I still hoed beans, bucked bales, and detasseled corn as a hired hand in the summer. But that was a job — not a way of life.
Even if my father had never left the farm, odds are I would have eventually left anyway. That was the demographic trend during the whole last half of the last century. The kids went away to school or to a big city for work, and tended never to move back.
It’s been hard on the farming communities. And I know it was hard on the old folks left behind as their kids fanned out across the country.
When I stop to think about how much different my life has been from the generations before I marvel. I have no explanation for why my entire adult career has been all inside work with no heavy lifting.
My father’s body bore the marks of a hard life in harder times. He was kicked in the head by an ornery horse, and had headaches for the rest of his life. His leg was caught between a hay wagon and a wall, and he walked with a limp. He even had a few scars from surviving what he believed to be a mild case of small pox.
If the American Dream involves working hard and ensuring your children have a better life, then my parents and their generation certainly did their part.