Mary McCashin shared the following letter to the editor. McCashin was born in Mocksville, N.C., where she grew up on a working horse farm. She lives in Nashville.
Growing up, I always thought being a farm kid was the best childhood. It was a bit isolating at times, but so long as I had my dog and my pony, I was a happy kid.
Kids at school thought that coming out to the farm was so cool. They couldn’t believe the wide open spaces and the fact that it was perfectly OK to show up to the dinner table covered in dirt. Having eight to 13 dogs was normal to us and blew everyone else’s minds, especially the fact that they all slept inside. Our home has always been open to people who needed a break from city life, and our kitchen table has been a refuge for many a teenager looking for some guidance in life.
My brother and I were always taught to pitch in, and we had our chore lists to attend to. We helped haul water to the horses when pipes froze in the winter, and we helped drive trucks and toss hay bales in the summer. We mucked stalls on Christmas Day, and I teeter-tottered after the vet like he was some sort of religious figure.
I grew up thinking this was a perfectly normal life. Nowadays, I think it was a perfectly extraordinary life.
I’ve always been grateful for the life I was born into, the life of a country kid. My dad died Aug. 1, 2013. He suffered a sudden stroke at 74 years old. He was headed out to mow pastures when it happened, something that could not have been more fitting. After his death, this whole new appreciation for farm life began to grow. Suddenly, I was even more thankful to my parents for teaching me about hard work and responsibility.
I was even more indebted to my dad for teaching my about horses, teaching me everything I know about my greatest passion. It’s hard to explain to some people how being around horses can lessen your anxiety or clear you head, but my parents always understood that. Any ride, even one where you end up with a mouth full of sand, is a good ride. You learn something every time you hit the dirt or achieve a training goal.
I had a whole newfound respect for the work my parents and my brother do every day, and to be honest, I miss it.
I suddenly became more nostalgic about growing up riding around in tractor buckets and farm trucks that didn’t have working seat belts (sorry, Mom); crawling in and out of feed bins; and climbing up and down the ladder to our loft. I love that my family has had the same farrier for more than 20 years, and he still ruffles my hair like he did when I was 4.
The loyalty that comes with farm life is invaluable. Someone’s word actually means something, and a gentlemen’s agreement is considered a binding contract. I love that fact that when someone mentions a "20-10-10", I think of a fertilizer mixture. The smell of cow patties makes me smile, and the roar of the drag strip is simply background noise.
Dad’s death taught me that there’s no time for distractions, there’s no time for games or tolerating people whose word you doubt. Dad’s death has made me crave real people and real things, the very things I grew up with.
Dad always had this code. He never told you the exact rules, but you learned them. Dad had this stare that told you when you were on the right track and, God forbid, the stare that let you know you were wrong. Always be honest and straightforward, don’t take advantage of people, don’t go back on your word, be respectful, be a good worker, be gentle with animals, trust you gut--and you’d better follow traffic laws.
There are more important things than being upset that your Starbucks order wasn’t right or that you had to wait in line at the pharmacy. There’s a better, and far simpler, mindset at hand. If only people took a step back and realized that it takes monumentally less energy to be real and honest than it does to play games or create drama out of thin air.
There’s work to be done, son.