MANN TALK: Noon on the Farm

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann

The morning began at 5:30 for me. My granddad roused me out and let me know that I was to plow the Tolbert flat with the team and the turning plow. Big deal for a teenager.

I rounded up the horses. They knew what was to come and thus they delayed my commands until they knew it was time to get serious about the day and then they would come and trot into their respective stalls. Like people who sit at table the same place so do horses go to the same stall.

I harnessed them. Small me throwing heavy harness onto animals ten times my size. But they allowed it and never made a threatening move except for their ears. When I did something that offended their space their ears would turned back. It was a signal to watch out.

Harnessed and ready, I hitched them to the sled with the turning plow on it and went to the Tolbert flat. It was one of those places on my grandfather’s land that was flat and absent of rocks, more or less. So, I went about the business of turning the earth. I circled around the acreage from outside to the middle. When finished there was a field of waves of earth , all the weeds, leaves and all else covered; and the earth with its potential of organic life and the stuff of life exposed in uniform to the sun and rain. Then it was ready for more cultivation and the planting of the seeds to make for the grains and plants of life.

Now the sun announced that noon was here. Noon on the farm was a blessed event. It was a time to unhitch, to put aside hoe and gather with the family at table. Only after the horses had had their relief from the morning’s efforts and had their most important relief at the pond.

I would unhitch the horses and would mount Old Dick, the more accommodating of the team, and ride him while holding the reins of the other horse. It was a joyous and hurried ride. Both horses and plowman were ready for a break and for food and drink.

The trot was to the pond and the trot never slowed. The pond was far from the Tolbert flat but soon we were there. Here was a pond fed by a spring in sylvan setting. Huge trees canopied the spring. It was cool and the pond was clear with water from the earth. One has never enjoyed the sound of the relief of drink until he has heard the suck of hot horses at pond after a morning of pulling a plow. A glass of water is nothing to the gallon that is consumed by that great drinking of the horses.

On approach, the frogs from around the circular pond sensed trouble, jumped in and went to the bottom to stir the sediment to hide themselves. The horses waded in. Their hooves sunk into the muck and when they stepped there was a great sucking sound of hooves pulling out and wadding in. In a moment or two a frog would emerge with quizzical eyes. Soon there more eyes wondering what was going on. There was always the dance and theatrics of the dragon flies and another creature that always captured my attention. It was a delicate creature, as delicate as a creature can be and live on the stage of the living

It strived and skated about the pond with legs of spider dimensions and had pontoons for feet that allowed it to skate on the surface tension of the pond un-wet. It skated about with a joyousness that it seemed to understand. Everywhere it went, driven to strive about and skate on the water. A stryder I called it.

The dragon flies were less ethereal but no less marvelous. They would fly from place to place on diaphanous wings, a pair on left and right, with huge eyes and segmented body. A structure a wonder to behold if one considered putting together such a creature from scratch. They would land here and there and stay awhile so that I could enjoy their marvelous structure.

But dinner waited and the horses and I were ready for it. So, the horses pulled away from the pond and it inhabitants with great sucking sounds and headed in trot to the barn and a meal of corn from the crib. I provided half a dozen ears in the manger box of each horse and then left on foot for the house and the table laden with glorious collections of plates, bowls and dishes of all that nature can produce from a well -tended and nature-favored garden. This meal was always the work of my grandmother and my spinster aunt. They had spent the day working on many projects but preparing the mid-day meal was a priority.

There was the Big Three for me: lard and buttermilk biscuits, fried potatoes and yellow transparent applesauce. In season there were fried ham, green beans, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers in cream, corn on the cob, often skillet-corn bread, pickles, preserves and other dishes and desserts. Also, whole milk and churned butter. My grandmother would not sit at table until everyone else had a plate and a cup full. Her concerns for others is an enduring memory.

Appetite is a child’s by nature and engendered more so by work. So I sat down to a company of calories and appeased a yearn for food beyond what anyone would consider today other than extravagant. But few today work from early to late expending calories by the buckets per hour.

Noon was over for the men. The women had the task of cleaning up after a meal. I went to the porch where my grandfather always retired to rest. He would put pillow on the threshold of the entrance to the house and stretch out on the porch and nap for a quarter hour.

I would play with my dog and hope my grandfather slept longer than his usual quarter hour. But his habits were ingrained and he awoke and I had to go to the barn and let the horses know that afternoon would be much the same as the morning.

But day ended. The horses were un-harnessed and turned out to pasture. Another meal at evening and then the family on the porch to watch the day decline and dusk filter in until dark came and then to bed. No radio, no TV, no computer, no texting, just resting --- and listening to the song of the whippoorwill.


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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921. For David M. Kinchen's review of "Mann & Nature," a collection of Perry Mann essays, click:

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