Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Farm Days

Margaret-Dawn Thacker

We worried that Farm Days would be a wash. Ben was finally home from college for a weekend and the boy had looked forward to this event all year.  He’d missed it last October studying for a test.  After he got home last night, he drove the Farmall H onto the lowboy trailer and helped tighten the chains holding the 1948 red show tractor down.  A soft drizzle misted.

“Do you think the rain’s gonna quit, Dad?”

“Forecast calls for sun. We’ll see,” Bruce said.

“Hope it clears up. I’d like to help Granddaddy saw the slabs.”

“Here, Ben, take this end of the rope and help me slide the saw onto the trailer. We’ll get it on there tonight, so we can just pull out in the morning. Ryan, go see if your Mama has everything in the car.”

I’d  already loaded the enamel top kitchen table, cherry seeder, sausage mill, cabbage press, and tobacco chopper before dark.  The wooden apple crate I’d just put in was packed with a crock of wooden spoons, a rolling pin, flour sifter, biscuit cutters, blue mason jars, a small crank egg beater, some dish towels and my tin miner’s lunch box.  Ryan helped me slide the wooden ironing board in and went back for the enamel baby bathtub holding a hand-made quilt, feed sack dress, and several packets of heirloom seeds. He closed the tailgate.

We turned off the lights for the night at 11:56 p.m. It was still raining.

I never have to call Ben more than once to get him up in the morning. He’s driven by daylight. Ryan, on the other hand, plays by the light of the moon. His older brother dragged him out of bed at six o’clock this morning, helped him find his shoes, put a jacket on him, and walked him out to the car. 

Fog was lifting off the pasture field when we got to Pleasant Grove Plantation in Fluvanna County. It was cold and the ground was wet from rain. Bruce, Ben, and I unloaded and set up our portion of the display. It was easier to let Ryan sleep in the car than to try to orient him to tasks that early in the morning. There’d be plenty for him to do later, when the rest of us were tired. 

Ben’s uncle, cousin, and grandparents arrived at nearly the same time we did, three generations gathered to showcase vintage tools, to teach, to learn.  Gates opened to the public at nine o’clock and we had equipment to ready for demonstration. Three tractors, the ‘H’, an Allis Chalmers, and an Oliver turned the belts to run the saws. We set our display next to a man who has a portable saw mill. He takes eight-foot logs and cuts them into boards. The slabs, shaved pieces of tree trunk edges with bark intact, are the lengths that Ben’s granddaddy cuts with the belt saw. Sixty years ago, he cut wood with a belt saw for a living.

“How’s college going?” Ben’s granddaddy asked as he slid the slab onto the saw’s platform with Ben’s help.

“I’m on the last leg, one more semester after this one and I’m done.  I was thinking about grad school, but I’m tired of tests, papers and teachers. I think I’m ready for the working world.”

“Lay the flat side down and hold the wood tight against the back edge there, otherwise when you tilt the shelf toward the saw it’ll kick the wood back on you.”

“Like this?” 
“That’s right.  Now, steady pressure all the way through. Don’t be afraid of it, but have a healthy respect for it. My daddy lost a finger on one like this.”

Ben looked down at his granddaddy’s right hand, where one finger was missing, the top knuckle and tip of another finger were gone.

“Didn’t lose these to a saw, lost ‘em to a corn chopper. The gears locked up and I didn’t think before I stuck my fingers into it.  Taught me a good lesson.”

Ben looked down at his own hands, long fingers all intact.

“Good idea to keep those,” Granddaddy said, laughing.

Ben stepped to the operator position as his granddaddy helped him slide the slab along the platform.

“You want to cut them in twelve- to eighteen-inch lengths so they’ll fit in the woodstove. Don’t have to be perfect, just within that range.” 

Ben held the wood tight to the back edge of the platform, his granddaddy standing beside him. Together,  they put the amount of pressure needed to cut the wood. A twelve-inch slab of wood fell to the ground.  Ben smiled as his grandfather stood back, letting the young man take the reigns.

The two of them took turns until all the cut pieces of slab lay in a pile by the saw. 

A Farm Days organizer walked up and handed Ben’s granddaddy a piece of paper.  He took it, shook the man’s hand and thanked him.  He turned to Ben, handed him the paper, and said, “Can you read this to me son.  I forgot my glasses at home.”

Ben knows his granddaddy can’t read. Teachers didn’t understand about learning disabilities in the 1930’s. When he couldn’t learn to read, Ben’s grandfather quit school and worked at home on the farm, and later at the saw mill.  He is shamed by his lack of formal education. He’s worked extra hard to insure his family’s well-being.  

“Sure Granddaddy. It says our demonstration times are scheduled for ten minutes after every hour.”

“Ok, we’ve got almost an hour before we start. Come with me to the truck. I have something for you.”

Ben followed him to the old green Chevrolet pickup. His granddaddy opened the glove box and took out a bank envelope. “Here, take this, it might help you with your books or something,” he said.

“Thank you, Granddaddy. I really appreciate your help,” Ben said, wrapping his arms around his grandfather in a hug.

“You’re the first one in our family to go to college, Ben.  Your Grandma and I are proud of you.”

Ben slid the envelope into his pocket, then put his arm around his grandfather’s shoulders as they walked up the hill toward the farm equipment.  “Can you show me how that corn chopper works now?” Ben asked.

“Sure, come on with me,” Granddaddy said, looking up at Ben. “Mean machine, that one. Might want to put your hands in your pockets.” The two of them laughed together as they walked toward the chopper.


Margaret-Dawn Thacker is a Virginia writer who also works with elders. She received her Associate's Degree from Piedmont Virginia Community College and her BA from Mary Baldwin College. She received first and second place awards for her poetry in college and has had several of her works published in the online magazine, and She blogs at


© Margaret-Dawn Thacker

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012