The Complete Works of a Worker

by Chuk Kittredge (with apologies to his immediate family)

My life as an organic farmer began as early as I can remember. I have no real recollection of my first memory, but I know that as long as I can remember I have lived and worked on an organic farm. I suppose for Dan, and maybe for Paul it was a little different, having grown up in Dorchester, but I grew up on the farm. My best friends from the beginning were always my siblings, Dan, Paul and Ellen. To this day they remain some of the people closest to me, and I think they always will be. We learned our work ethic, our games and way of life from the farm. I always knew that chores had to be done and the garden had to be weeded and wood had to split to keep the farm going. I guess it wasn't so much of a realization as an acceptance, as a savant just accepts the fact that (s)he is brilliant. I definitely learned my work ethic in the fields and at home. It wasn't that I worked for money or hours when I was a kid; it wasn't a job or a career, as you would say, just a way of life. I knew that the farm needed my contribution to keep going, and only if the farm kept alive would I eat, be clothed, and had a bed to sleep in. It is different now; I work when I need money to do all those things, and get free time when and where I can. But somehow, I have always felt attached to any company or business I have worked for, and felt that its survival was dependent in some small part on me.

The home place on a glorious spring day The home place on a glorious spring day

So much for work ethic. One of the most important things about the farm was the food. There has always been food on the farm, and usually plenty of it. There has always been the sweetest water I have ever tasted, from the deep well in our backyard. There were always fresh vegetables, which like all kids I shunned with a vengeance. There was always fresh meat, from our own animals, and spices and the few things we bought, like flour and grains, and my mom's good cooking. Not that my dad isn't a good cook; in fact, his pig's foot soup is second to none and his cornbread brings tears to my eyes to this day. But there is something about a man's hearty, sticky way of cooking that will never compare to looking up at your mother as she hums and prepares a meal fit for a king. Now that I'm at college, I live in an off-campus house, where we are off board and can buy good organic and healthy food, but for two years I was stuck on the campus food plan. Marriott is evil. I can think of no way to describe it better that this: their food has no soul. Nothing. If the food from the farm is alive and throbbing, then Marriott food has been rolling over in its grave since time began. It weakened me, depressed me, killed me physically, and put my head into such a tailspin I was two years getting out of it. If you do one thing in this life, eat well. Eat well.

Now, the farm wasn't all that I've made it sound like. As I look back across the distance, the years grow slightly rose-tinted and beautiful, tragic and peaceful, heroic and vigorous. I got my ass kicked on a regular basis. Dan used to beat me mercilessly (a fact which he will deny to his dying day). Kids at school would tear into me like a fat person into a pie, like a polar bear into a seal. We were poor. We knew it. In junior high, we'd pull up to track meets in the old farm truck, and when we needed to start it again, we would pop the hood, climb in, and plug a screwdriver into whatever needed plugging at the time. We had very few friends. We didn't wash much. We brought our sandwiches to lunch; homemade bread, homemade cheese, and alfalfa sprouts. I hated those sprouts. I hated those sprouts more than the way I had to work, the hand-me-downs that never quite fit, the old saggy backpacks, sweat-stained and torn from years of playground use. I hated them more than the homemade down coats with the seams hanging out, more than my empty pockets, more than the shitty old station wagon we'd cram six people in to. More than my hands, dirty and torn and bleeding at 8 years old from too much work, more than I hated all those 'rich' kids who used to pick on me and send me home crying. I hated those sprouts, maybe because I perceived them as being the emblem of my poverty and hard work, the green badge of honesty. No, it wasn't all happy.

More than anything else, when I was a kid, I wanted to be like everybody else. Just that. Like everybody else. That was the constant question: "Jack and Julie, why can't we be like everybody else?" And they'd pawn us off some adult shit about how this was making us stronger and we were better than the rest of the kids (no, sorry, that was just Jack) and give us adult answers to child questions. I hated that at the time. Now I know how right they were, and looking back on it, I wished I had had more chance to revel in that childhood life and learn its lessons better, because they keep coming back, stronger and stronger the older I get. But the fact that I learned the least bit of what Jack and Julie were trying to teach to us (and to themselves as well, I now think) is valuable. There were good lessons in there among the hardship. And they needed to be learned.

I was always happiest on a warm summer day out in the fields. My siblings would be there, and maybe an apprentice or two who were like Jack and Julie but more fun and cooler, and Julie would be tearing weeds out of the ground like it was going out of style, and Dan would be hucking dirt clods or snakes or whatever he could find to throw at me, and Paul would be staring intently at something and trying to ignore Dan, and Ellen would be picking her toes two rows over, and I'd slowly weed and stare at the big weeds and little plants and the bugs and the good earth, and I'd smell it and be happy. I can do that to this day; if I get a good whiff of fresh healthy dirt I get happy. That's all it takes. I sometimes wish that I could be out there in the fields with my stupid siblings and stupid parents, working on that stupid farm, and living that stupid life, and loving it more than anything else I have ever known. Because I loved that farm and I love that farm and I hope that more kids could have had a farm to grow up on. Maybe there would be less hatred and anger in the world, if we all had grown up in the hot sun pulling weeds with our siblings. I don't know.

As for siblings, I really don't know what to say. I guess just that they have their faults like anyone else, and I'm glad I learned that at a young age. And that I love them, as ridiculous as they all are in their own ways.

The woods behind the house, at sunset The woods behind the house, at sunset

On the matter of parents, its much the same. Julie was a bitch when we were kids. She'd work us too hard and push us to be musical and theatrical and well-rounded and I think she missed out somewhere on who we were during that time. She's much better now. She lets us do our own thing, and helps us out when and where she can. She's still the best mom ever, and cooks a damn good meal, too.

Jack was entirely different. I think maybe that's why they were so good for each other, because they were so opposite. I remember Jack being distant when I was very young, but somehow he got closer every year. He was always funny, incredibly funny, and he read us all of the greatest literature ever written and gave us morals and ideas and handled the money. I think that was a lot of it; that Jack handled the money. Julie was always broke, and would give away her money if she thought someone needed it. Jack was different; he was canny, and saved up and made ends meet and I always thought we were poor when we were kids because I never remember having much money. But Jack started up bank accounts for us, and taught us how to handle money, and put more away while he was at it. I'm sitting at one the best colleges in the nation right now, typing this, and Jack, and his damned tightfisted penny-pinching, Uncle-Scroogish ways are what got me here. How's that for irony? I think Jack grew up slower than Julie and was still figuring it all out when we were kids. He surpassed Julie for a bit there, but once we were gone, Julie did a little growing of her own and I think that for one of the first times in their lives they are happy together. And I think that's because they're finally equal in their own eyes. I think that's wonderful.

I learned a lot of things from my childhood; how to grow vegetables, how to care for animals, how to get along, what pain feels like, what hard work feels like, what love feels like. What it means to be honest, what music is, what a good education is, how to save money, how to fix mechanical things, what maturity is. But most of all, how to accept what you're given and make the most of it. I guess that's what I did, and am still doing. One of those lame "Give me grace to change those things that I can and accept those that I cant" things is bubbling to the surface, but I don't think its that easy. My childhood wasn't easy, and my life isn't easy. I can't sum up everything I've said here in a trite expression of the kind you crochet and hang on a wall.

If you're reading this right now, I hope you have learned something. Parents, try and feel the trouble kids are having with this way of life. Kids, try and understand it will all be better soon enough and you'll be better off. And everyone, just love each other. That's all we can do in this world. Love another and hope for the best.

And it probably wouldn't hurt to go play in some dirt, and smell it. You'd be amazed at what you might find there.