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Teach Children by Example a Good Work Ethic

Updated on September 13, 2016

Lessons Learned When I was a Boy

I don't know how young I was, maybe all of 5 years old, when my daddy and mom helped my Grandpa tie bean strings on Ann Mountain. In those days the Kentucky Wonders he grew had to be strung up with twine so the bean runners could have a path to climb and flourish. The beans when mature, would be long green and picked in bushel baskets to be sold at the Farmers Market in Hendersonville,NC. Brokers from the area bid on all the local farmers produce which found its wy to chain grocery stores up an down the East coast.

My job that day was to tie the bottom strings and help daddy. It seemed I could never keep up with my dad who could tie a knot on the top wire with one hand in less time than you could blink your eyes.Daddy would help me to catch up if I got too far behind but it wasn't long before I would be behind again and loose strings were blowing in the afternoon breeze. The breeze was welcome and all I could think of was how happy I would be when we finished. Scooting along on the plowed balks strewn with rocks that had been plowed was hard on a little boys knees and I think I might have even have worn a hole in the knees of my overalls before the end of the day, well maybe not holes but it sure felt like there was noithing between me and the good Earth. Kids, unless they were toddlers were taken to the field, baby sitters were older siblings.

My Uncle who was only 16 months older than me had not helped matters. Earlier in the morning he had taken me to the spring in the woods where a man had frozen to death during the winter. Apparently, two men who lived on the mountain had been down to Cathead where a moonshiner ran a still and had purchased a gallon of "shine" stopping at the spring to build a fire and maybe had taken too many nips from the jug. The campfire he had built just wasn't enough to protect him from the cold temperatures that horrible night. The other who man had been with him that night lived in a house just below Ann Mountain and had gone home.

My Uncle and I had made several trips during the morning to get a cold drink from the mountain spring and he showed me the remains of the charcoaled wood left from the fire the man who had frozen to death had made. I didn't understand too much those sort of things but knew drinking white lightning was frowned upon by most respectble folks and realized it must have been a horrible way to die. Going to the spring was a diversion from the work and I soon learned I had me a job to do. My Uncle also told me the area was haunted by the ghost of the man.

We finally finished tying the bean field and the only other thing I remember about that day was my daddy carrying me from his truck and laying me in my bed that night. For most of us who grew up in this area, we learned the value of hard work at a young age. As we grew older, we were able to do the work of men and women and if family didn't have farm work, there was always plenty of area farmers who needed farm hands to plant and harvest their crops.

Pole beans were a huge money crop during the 1950's and required a lot of hand work. Tying strings, laying up runners and then harvesting. Some fields located in the Hodge Bottoms in Greenville County South Carolina covered multiple acres and it took the better part of a day to pick one row. The beans were picked in wooden baskets that held bushel or 30 pounds of beans. Workers were encourage to lay the beans in the basket nice and straight. This served two purposes, the package would be neat with eye appeal to buyers or brokers bidding on the open market and many times more than 30 pounds were in the basket. I have seen as much as 34 pounds in some baskets where the person picking laid the fruit straight.

We were paid 50 cents for each bushel we picked and on an average, one could expect to pick between 15 and 20 bushels in a day. The work wasn't that hard but the hot sun bearing down and often high humidity, made for some miserable days. The good thing is young folks are hearty and the time in the fields working could be made tolerable by singing and friendly chatter whenever it was possible. We talked about school and sports. The girls talked about boys and the boys, well we just listened.

One job in the bean field was that of a lugger. The lugger carried full bean hampers all day to the end of the rows where the baskets were weighed and lids added to the basket which were then loaded onto a truck to take to the farmers market. My friend, Harold Corn who later became an executive with Kodak in Kingsport,Tennessee was an awesome lugger, oftentimes running through the bean rows with two bushels in tow. Harold played football at East Henderson and used the time in the fields as a sort of primitive conditioning program as well as a way to earn money.

Lunches were often packed and brought from home but sometimes there would be a mom and pop store nearby where we could go get cold drinks and crackers. We all were friends and none of us thought we were better than anyone else even if they might pick more bushels than we could. The lessons we learned were life lessons and all a part of growing up to become responsible adults.

Farming has taken a huge turn in our area. My generation learned how to work with our hands and when my wife and I had children, they too were taught that working in the fields was expected and valuable lessons leaned.

In the 1970's our county saw a transition from farms where family was the principle source for labor to a steady increase in migrant labor. How well I remember bus loads of migrants who were Afro-American working and harvesting on some of the larger farms. That all transitioned in the 1970's with Hispanic migrant labor moving into this area to harvest apples, tomatoes and other crops. During the 1950's almost all harvest and farm labor was done by family. Recently I heard one farmer say,"You can't even get the Hispanic community to do farm work anymore."

Local children today do not know much about working in agriculture but it was the norm during my early years. The lessons and work ethic we learned in those days paid dividends later in life.


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    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 3 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      You are right Tom. Someone reminded me not long ago chin grocery stores haven't been around all that long. We have become a country where food is tken for granted. Hurry on down to Hardee's!!! I know I got in on the tail end of an era where everyone family had gardens and ate what they grew and preserved the rest. As youngsters we were expected and sometimes made to work in the fields. I wonder what might happen if all of a sudden we had to revert to those days. Not a pleasant thought but it surely can happen. Hopong all is well in Moundsville and you are happy happy happy.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 3 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      If times ever get very tough this country will miss the ability to live with home grown food and home cooked food. Anyone who can subsistence farm will be a survivor of really bad times.