When I was a young boy, I went everywhere with my grandfather and daddy, constantly bugging them to let me drive everything. I wanted so badly to be a farmer.
One day we were walking through the John Deere dealership. I was following my grandfather like a dog on a leash, asking one farming question after another. Papaw, why do we do this? Papaw, why don’t we do that? Papaw, can I drive this?
He finally turned around and said, “Hey, I’ll tell you what you can do. Why don’t you just be a kid today?” The John Deere mechanics still laugh about that.
For Christmas that year, I got my very own Motorola handheld two-way radio. I vividly remember thinking, “This means they want me to be on the farm, and somebody wants to talk to me about farming.” I felt like I had been called up to the big leagues. I had made it to the show. I was a part of the team.
Before I got my own radio, if I needed to talk to somebody, I had to stop one of the drivers and ask him to call my daddy. We didn’t have radios mounted in the tractors because we had a lot of machinery and didn’t want to swap them from one piece of equipment to another.
We all wore the walkie-talkies on our hips, but my dad had a lapel mic. So I wanted a lapel mic, too. It was connected to the radio with a wire, which was longer than me. As a 10-year-old kid, I must have looked ridiculous walking around with that Motorola two-way radio and lapel mic.
When I went to Murray State University in Kentucky, I took it with me so I would have it when I came home on the weekends. As soon as I cleared the bluff just west of Dyersburg, I called Dad, Papaw or Uncle Duke to see where they were and where they wanted me to go.
Later, we updated the Motorola handhelds to digital bandwidth radios. But I still have the original one with a Seal of Cotton sticker on it plugged into the charger at the house.
I also used to sit in my dad’s lap and “help” drive the combine with my feet propped up on the toolbox so I could touch the floor. One day I was cutting wheat with my father beside me. I remember Dad saying, “I have to go to the shop. I will be right back.” And then he opened the door, walked off the ladder and left me driving that machine by myself. I felt like I became a real farmer that day. And I was 10 years old.
I loved farming so much that my school teachers knew not to put me next to the window. At the elementary school, I could see farm ground. All I wanted to do was look out the window and critique the guy driving the tractor.
My grades went up when I went to junior high because it was farther into town. There wasn’t much to look at. However, I could see the compress, and I knew our cotton was in there. So I saw it come in on trucks from the gin and watched the buyers come by to pick it up year round.
When I was in the fourth grade at Westside Elementary School in Caruthersville, Missouri, my teacher was Mrs. Ginny VanAusdall. For my project, I grew cotton in 8-ounce Styrofoam cups in the windowsill.
Today, her husband, Rogers, farms all around us. We share four or five borders on different fields. He is an excellent grain farmer but wants to grow some cotton this year for rotational purposes. He asked me if I would bed up the ground, plant the cotton and pick it for him, and I agreed. So from the fourth grade to 38 years old, I am planting cotton for the VanAusdalls.
Today, our operation has grown, and my responsibilities have, too. Like Papaw used to say, “The only thing that stays the same is change,” and sometimes it weighs on you. But, that’s farming. And I hope it all works out.
— Patrick Turnage
Pemiscot County, Missouri