I have been able to spot someone who had grown up on a farm all my life. It’s not as if they talk differently or dress funny or anything as obvious as that — it’s more like an unseen connection, a feeling of shared origin that draws us together.My childhood on the farm equipped me for life like no other. That, and the fact that I have five siblings. Farmers rarely have only one or two kids, and my parents kept trying until they had their son. For good measure they then proceeded to have two more girls after him.
I suppose it wasn’t too difficult to feed an army of growing kids with our endless supply of fresh milk and free range farm eggs. We also had no shortage of beef, chicken, pork or even venison. We ground our own sorghum meal (Maltabella) and maize for porridge. We made the best ever boerewors (sausage) with my mom’s special herbs and spices. We picked beautiful gooseberries in the wild and grew our own fruit and vegetables.
My favourite of all these were the juicy prickly pears that we picked with a tin attached to a long stick. We always managed to get a zillion tiny, hair-like thorns all over our fingers. All was forgotten when we could finally enjoy the delicacy.
I remember picking the first young corn of the season, peeling the green leaves open like a gift to reveal the beard and perfect teeth within. Oh how the smell of it filled the house when my mom cooked it in her biggest pot. The taste of the young juicy kernels, shiny with butter and bursting with the flavour of sunshine.
Farm kids (of any age) are very versatile. We can milk a cow, fight a fire, raise chickens and slaughter a sheep. We can ride a horse, a tractor and a motorbike long before we start school. We know the facts of life way before our town friends (and do not find it funny or “dirty”!) and can distinguish between young plants of mealies (corn), soy, sonneblom (canola) and wheat from a considerable distance. We know how to get up early and work until our bones ache. We know the best way to slide down a haystack and how good it feels to let a young calf suck on your fingers.Like all good farm kids, I don’t squirm at the sight of blood or mud or manure or dust. We played in wagon-loads full of corn and sorghum, even though we knew it would burn like hell at bath-time later. We swam in the spring that gave our farm its name, and in the dam, diving from tractor-tire tubes and making huge waves by bouncing up and down together. We then took turns to roll the same tube down-hill, with one of us sitting inside, holding on for dear life, the others cheering you on, and then finally collapsing in a triumphant, nauseous heap at the bottom of the hill.
A large part of our day was spent on the school bus. Because our farm was closest to town, ours was the first stop in the morning and the last in the afternoon, a one-way trip taking about an hour. On route to school and back we did forgotten homework, swapped lunch and forged long lasting friendships. During all our collective years of using the school bus, we saw two or three busses come and go, but our lady driver stayed the same, even after there were no more kids to be collected at the entrance to our farm. She was a dear, dear lady who knitted soft-toys while she waited for the bus to fill up. Sometimes her husband filled in for her and sometimes her sons came along, but mostly it was her friendly face we saw day after day, year after year.
Farmers can do almost anything. They are veterinarian and botanists, electricians and plumbers, mechanics, welders and woodworkers. I believed my father could do anything as long as he had his knipmes (jack-knife) with him. To this day I still believe that most things can be fixed with a knipmes, a piece of wire and pliers. Before I left home to study in the city, my dad taught me how to change the glow plugs on my old diesel VW Golf myself and gave me a basic set of tools that any self-respecting farm girl needs.
Maybe it’s the dependence on God, nature, and the seasons that defines the lives of the farmers I know, as well as the good, honest values that our parents raised the six of us with, but something made us different, stronger. You would expect six siblings to be completely different from one another, and we are, but we all grew up to share a positive outlook on life, an unbreakable spirit and the willingness to try anything. We are all opinionated and strong-willed and neither meek nor mild. We are compassionate and loving and very adaptable, even though we never moved once during my childhood. We all love animals and nature and children.These are some of the qualities that I have found time and time again in other people who grew up on farms. Of course there are exceptions and of course there are wonderful people with amazing characteristics who have never milked a cow or tended a vegetable garden. But this is my theory and I’m sticking with it.Words cannot describe how grateful I am to my mom and dad, who gave us such an amazing childhood, trusting in the Lord to provide harvest after harvest for a family of eight!
I can only hope that even though my kids were not so lucky to be raised on a farm, that we can instill in them some of those old-fashioned farm values that made us six wild, happy kids the well-balanced adults we are today
1980: The six Havemann Siblings: Back – Louise, Pauli, Sinvia. Front – Steresah, Heinrich and Lizette.