Welcome! Come Visit and Stay Awhile:
These pages are intended to introduce those of you who have become fans of the column Eggs In My Pocket to some of the background of the origin of the column and some of the participants you have read about. For those of you who have not been exposed to the column, we hope you will find an interest in becoming a fan. Actually, the title was intended as a title of a book that is so far incomplete. The book that is about to be published is a group of the selected columns that have proven to be favorites of some of my readers. The original book was to have been about the experiences that we as a family encountered when we moved from being basically town dwellers to life on a real operating farm.
Unlike some of our contemporaries, we were not total novices to the rural life. Well, semi-rural; we had bought three acres south of Austin in order to be able to keep our horses ourselves rather than board them. We built a house there and for a few years it was an ideal setup, small neighborhood with kids all going to the same small school and neighbors who were nice and nicely separated from each other. With time, the development grew and we became dissatisfied as it changed for the worse, in our opinion. Some of the people who bought places there turned their dogs, kids and horses loose with little regard for the impact it had on others. After all, they now lived in the “country”, and anything goes out there.
Too, while suburban “acreage” living is not exactly like the compressed urban city building arrangements, it still is more similar than different. It in no way resembles the current view out our front window as shown in the associated picture. There are paved streets and driveways, lawns to water and mow, neighborhood kids for our kids to play and fight with and pre-schoolers that appeared in our house un-announced, addressing me as “John’s Mother” and announcing their intent to go up to his room to play. A few surprises like that and I began locking the front door, which I had never had to do before. Traffic proliferated, open country shrank, and it was harder and harder to find a place to ride horses safely. We dreamed of more space, a real farm.
While the suburban horse owner has had a small taste of farm/ranch life, the real McCoy brings one up short against hard reality. The shift from three acres to 100 brought with it trials and surprises, delights and tribulations we had never imagined. We discovered once again that everything is relative. Our small farm is to “real” farmers/ranchers what our previous three acres is to our present place; viewed with mild amusement. A “real farmer/rancher” doesn’t discuss the cost of a roll of barbed wire - they discuss the cost of fence by the mile. As youngsters growing up, I had a friend whose father farmed 6000 acres of wheat land - now that is a farm. When one examines the view of our 100 acre farm/ranch through the eyes of our friends from New Jersey, it’s a real farm, complete with armadillos, briar bushes, cactus, muddy dirt roads that keep your vehicle dirty no matter how often you wash it , great big animals that don’t move out of your way and plenty of other stuff they never dreamed of in the ‘city.”
This new rural life style evoked the name “townies”, which was what we were, having grown up in houses in the small Texas town of Vernon, and lived in the cities of Amarillo and Austin, before making the jump to three acres in Manchaca. Blissfully unaware of the effects of weather on their food supply, most townies are more concerned about the effect of the weather on their everlasting golf game or whatever ball game is scheduled than they are about the need for a good drenching for the ranchers’ pastures parched by days of pounding sun.
Weather forecasters extol the virtues of “more good weather”, understanding their audience to be primarily golfers, picnickers, football enthusiasts and bikers, while the farmer whose fields are drying up watches in disgust and dismay.
Townies also don’t understand the basics of life “beyond the sidewalks”; if a gate is closed when you go through it, there’s a reason; close it behind you. Plastic bags and foam takeout cartons do not just disappear when tossed from a car window; they lie unsightly in the ditch forever unless they are blown into the fence and flutter there until they’re ragged shreds. Cows will eat plastic bags sometimes and it makes them sick. Keep trash in the car until you get back to town. Bulls don’t automatically chase people, but a cow with a calf is a dangerous animal; don’t try to pet the baby unless the owner says it’s okay. Fences are built around farms to keep animals in, true; they also are intended to keep strangers out. Just because it’s “country” doesn’t mean it’s a public playground. We live here. That’s the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
The Original Eggs In My Pocket Idea (It seemed like a good idea at the time)
Not only did we move to a farm, completely ignorant of all that move entailed, but we also built our own home foundation to roof, drilled a well, installed a septic system, built a barn and attended pressing needs as they arose, which seemed to be almost daily. The farm came with a herd of cattle, mixed Hereford cows and a great huge Hereford bull with an impressive spread of horns. The house site was not fenced; we chose a spot with difficulty from the many beautiful locations on the 100 acres. Having cattle wandering around as we worked was a tad bit disconcerting; they were not tame, but not wild either, and took some getting used to. The task of building a house ourselves in a rigid time frame dictated by the loan company was, in hindsight, not the smartest choice we ever made. In typical Papa fashion, it was all or nothing, and all proved to be daunting, to say the least. The experiences we lived through were to have been recorded for posterity, but I just never got around to it. We were too busy living through the experiences of every day to think much about recording it all for posterity, a fact that remains true to this very date.
For example, there was the day when the house was finally “in the dry”, with the roof complete and the doors and windows installed, that I found our 2000 pound horned Hereford bull standing on the patio pawing the concrete, challenging the intruder to his territory. He had wandered up looking for a munchie and saw himself reflected in the newly installed 8-foot patio door. Male cardinals do this all the time, but they weigh about ten ounces max; John Bull was a bit more formidable. I grabbed the broom and swatted him until he gave it up and wandered off in search of his cows. We came to question the logic of the “house first” concept when the kids found that every time they stepped out the door of the temporary trailer we lived in, they were ambushed by Sweet William. They had raised him from a cuddly little white kid to the massive silver gray Billy goat with sweeping horns who now seemed to believe it was his mission in life to eradicate them. They had to drop a loop of rope around his horns and tie him to a tree in order to get to the school bus, and then I had to turn one very large and angry Billy goat loose. If Sweet William was not attacking them, then they had to watch out for Bushwhack, a White Rock Rooster the size of a large turkey. He hid behind bushes - hence the name Bushwhack - watching for the kids to come out, and would run from almost anywhere on the place to make them scatter screaming for help. He was almost as big as our son Little John at the time, and clever; he chose only small people as his victims.
At this writing, grandchildren have experienced some of the same trials, with different animals, of course. Geese have been added to the mix, and goats with bad attitudes, and goats with sweet natures. The grandsons were long ago big enough to fend for themselves, and Sara is bold with a stick when it comes to defending herself. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps someday there will even be a book about it all, just as soon as I get time.