This past Sunday, I took Brandon to see our family farm near Dilley, Texas, where my mother grew up and where I spent a good part of my childhood. The farm has been in our family for over six decades, not long after my grandfather returned home after World War II. He met my grandmother at the Dilley Hotel, which she owned and operated at the time, and together, they took a gamble and traded the hotel for what is now our farm, which at the time appeared to be nothing but a dry and worthless patch of ground suffering from the drought of the 1950’s, the most extreme drought our state has ever faced. My grandad worked from sun up to sun down plowing fields on a tractor, welding, building, and planting. In the face of storm-sized dust clouds, he would collect seed on one part of the farm and go plant them on another part, hoping for something to grow and hold the soil in place.
I’m always in awe when I look out across our land and think about how fertile and abundant it is now, and how it has brought so much good to our family.
Over the years, my grandad built cattle pens and stock tanks, barns, silos, miles of fenceline, and a new house to replace the one bedroom farmhouse that came with the property.
My brother and I grew up learning to fish on the edge of the stock tank my grandad built. It’s where we would get to watch the sun set over the mesquite trees on summer evenings.
The farm was where we marked the new year each year by shooting off firecrackers. We had to use only those firecrackers that were very low to the ground because “everything else will catch the field on fire” and “we don’t want the volunteer fire department to come out here on a holiday now do we?” (Words of my grandfather.)
I got behind the wheel of a car for the first time on these red dirt roads, sitting on my grandad’s lap while we listened to his cassette tape of cotton pickin’ songs. Yes, an entire tape of songs about pickin’ cotton. Did you know Johnny Cash has a song called, “When Jesus was our Savior, and cotton was our King?”
The farm is where I learned to hunt, to field dress my kill, and to fry venison. Of all the skills I’ve acquired in life, this one has come in handy!
It’s where I came very close to reaching my hand down into a rattlesnake den but was saved by a little angel voice in my head that said “Hello. Me again. Maybe you shouldn’t reach your hand into a dark corner of the barn. ”
The farm is where I raced under irrigation pipes on a 4 wheeler.
It is where I ate lots, and lots, and lots of fresh produce. My grandad had such a green thumb–in huge fields of vegetables and small garden plots alike. Every time we went to visit him, there was some fresh produce sitting in the fridge and more to be picked later.
Going for a ride in the pickup after arriving at my grandad’s farm was a family tradition, and typically he had something he wanted to show us, and we’d idle along at 10 mph. My grandad was never in a hurry.
Brandon needed to spend a day on the farm with me and hear all of these stories. And there were lots of stories to go around.
One thing I told him was that there never used to be this much cactus!
Cattle keep things like that at bay but in the past few years we haven’t had cattle because it’s been so dry, so the cactus has sprouted up out of the prairie like an army.
A fresh crop of watermelons was ripening on the vine while we were driving around, and so I got out my pocket knife and cut off a couple. Don’t mind if I do.
Packin’ heat and pickin melons. Welcome to my life! Or part of it.
I feel much more comfortable when I’m out on the ranch by myself with this at my hip.
These days our farm needs a lot of work, but that’s how farms are. Imagine how much work it takes to keep your house clean and garden free of weeds. Now imagine that on over a thousand times more land and with three barns full of equipment, two windmills, three watering holes, and miles and miles of fenceline.
But it’s worth it. One evening watching the sunset is enough payment. Around every bend there is a pleasant memory of learning to drive, shooting off fireworks, fishing by the tank, or zooming through the peanut fields.
You just learn to forget the close calls you had with rattlesnakes.
A massive bowl of fresh watermelon is good therapy.
More memories are to be made in the years ahead. And lots of cactus to burn!