man-standing-by-river-1410523My last memory about the little rent house was when the men came. They were in an orange truck and carried tools.  But the only thing they did was look through something on top of 3 tall legs.

The men talked to me and my little brother and gave us water in paper cups that were shaped like cones. I felt real big talking and drinking water with the men.

They came every day for a few days, and then we didn’t see them any more.  I didn’t know then that the men coming meant the world of the little rent house was going away.

After that we moved to another house on a new part of my granddad’s farm he just bought. It was kind of between the little rent house and my grandmother and granddad’s house, except it was over on a paved road instead of the chunk rock road.

The fields were grown up with bushes and trees so that we could not see over to the little rent house. But after my granddad had those bulldozed off to make pastures, we could see from our new house to where the little rent house was.  Except it wasn’t there.  The little log bridge was gone, too.  For the next few years we watched big machines pile up a big wall of rocks where the little rent house and the bridge used to be.

The wall was between us and Mr. Tom and Mrs. Flossie’s house. The only part of the chunk rock road that was still there was the part that had gone to my grandmother and granddad’s house.  But now it didn’t go anyplace else, and nobody drove on it anymore.

The pile of rocks turned into Interstate 40, and lots of things changed.

People traveled to places farther away.  We didn’t just go to the Grant store, but we sometimes went to stores in Lebanon or Carthage.  And once a year before Christmas we would even go to Nashville to the real big stores.

I can remember my grandmother cranking a wooden telephone on the wall in her house, and there had been a wooden phone at the store in Grant, too.  Then men came and put a plastic telephone that you dialed in our house.  My grandmother got a new plastic one, too.

One day my dad brought home a brand new television. It was bigger and fancier than our old TV that looked like a box.  I was excited hoping that maybe it would be a color TV like I had heard of.  But when my dad turned it on, the show was still just black and white.  I was really disappointed.  Then a commercial came on, and it was color.  That was way, way more exciting than a water faucet or a telephone was.

Churches started having bad arguments and splitting up. The people who had town jobs wanted to put air conditioning and bathrooms in the churches.  But the people that lived on farms didn’t think they should pay for that stuff in the church for a couple of hours on Sunday when they didn’t even have those things in their house.  Outhouses and paper fans (with pictures on one side and writing about the local funeral home on the other side) worked just fine for the farmers.

But farmers did start getting tractors and bigger tools. Then they began to work less in hot weather, at least the ones that did start getting air conditioning in their house.  My granddad didn’t buy a big tractor.  He did buy the little tractor with littler tools than the other farmers had.  The little tractor didn’t have the new 3-point hitch so the implements were hard to hook on.  Granddad always kept a mule on his farm.  He plowed with his mule til he was in his 80s.

I spent lots of days growing up holding plow handles with too good a view of that mule’s behind and too good a smell of the leather harness soaked with mule sweat.

It was easy to work Atter Jane. A lot of people told me my granddad was one of the best mule and horse trainers around.  I would say “yea” and “haw” to her a lot.  But she knew what to do better than me.  I just kept up a conversation so we both didn’t feel too lonesome.

Working one mule is a lot different from working a team of mules.  I heard people talk about it, but I only saw somebody work with a team of mules just once.

The interstate split Mr. Tom’s farm in half. His house and his barn were on the other side.  But most of his pastures and hayfield were on our side.

One day I saw Mr. Tom with a team of mules mowing his hay on our side of I-40. Then another day he and the mules raked the hay into piles.  And then the mules pulled a wagon, and Mr. Tom loaded the hay on the wagon with a pitch fork.

I don’t know how many trips Mr. Tom made to move all the hay to his barn, but it must have been a bunch.  It took a long time for mules to go down the road to where you could go under I-40 and then go back up the new road they made on the other side to his barn.

I never saw Mr. Tom on his farm on our side again. He sold it to my granddad.  I don’t think Mr. Tom farmed much after that.

Once me and my uncle were loading manure on a wagon to spread on the tobacco patch. He told me once years before he was loading manure by himself and Mr. Tom walked up.  Mr. Tom spoke, then leaned against a post and watched my uncle working.  That was weird because a farmer never just stood and watched another farmer working.  Most of the time you jumped in and helped till that chore was done.  Or you left because it was rude to bother somebody working.

Mr. Tom was a deacon at our church, and he never said much.  Back then people respected somebody just talking when there was something worth saying.  Not like now when people think it’s rude not to talk just to be saying something.

My uncle said after a while Mr. Tom finally said something,  “Well, I’ll tell you about manure. For the first few loads it’s good, rich fertilizer.  After that, it’s just shit.”

I still laugh when I think of Mr. Tom saying that. I wrote a poem about it you can read if you want.

Bunches of farmers’ had their farms cut in half. Our nearest neighbor up the road had his house on our side and most of his farm and barn on the other side.  He got a part time job driving the school bus.  One day he had a heart attack while driving kids on the bus.  He got the bus off the road and turned the motor off before he died.  He was a good person, and I wish I had known him more.  His youngest son was a year older than me.  He quit school to work on the farm.  We worked together sometimes helping other farmers with hay or tobacco, and we went fishing a few times.  While I was at college, he drowned fishing at night with some other friends.  I still look for him when I go by their house even though it’s been 40 years.

I’m very privileged to remember all the worlds I’ve got to see, from slop jars to smart watches. Change must be a good thing, because going from birth to death is what the whole universe does.  I figured out way back then that it’s smart to be prepared for bad things to happen as well as good.  Because whether it is happy or sad, you can’t stop the world from changing.  You can just try to make the world today as good as you can.