I’m guessing most of you don’t know what a ‘Stoneboat’ is. It is a parenting tool used to build stamina, character and muscle on all unassuming children. Okay, not all children, maybe just farm children, maybe not even that, maybe just my dad’s children. There is many a kid over the last hundred years that had to go into the farm fields to pick rocks … long before mechanical rock pickers arrived on the scene. That being said, I don’t think there were too many kids doing it in my era. So ... I picked rocks and roots with my sis and occasionally some 'town' boys every summer. My dad realized after a couple of times that the two of us girls, could out pick the guys ten to one. He was wasting his hard earned money and my patience was wearing thin with dudes that couldn't keep up the pace. I drove the tractor, I pulled the stoneboat (it was an old car hood dragged behind the tractor, for those of you that didn't grow up on a farm) I chucked rocks and roots and I OUTWORKED the rest of them. Thus ... the self imposed title of 'The Stoneboat Queen'. I rocked it.
My dad’s dream was to own a farm, have animals and grow crops, just to be on the land … his own little piece of heaven. He worked hard, really hard, really, really, really hard. So much so, this year, in his 75 year, is the first time he has ever taken a summer off. Crazy, I say … just plain crazy. Crazy, but not in the way that you think. My dear ol’ dad grew up in a generation where you worked all the time. During the day he worked at his full time job as a principal and the minute he got off work until he fell into bed, he worked the farm.(During calving season, he was up every 2-3 hours to check on the expecting mama cows) There wasn’t any work life balance back then, it wasn’t a term anyone even knew about or had created for that matter. Men worked, and worked and worked. That’s why my dad can’t relax, he doesn’t know how.
We’ve been trying to get him to quit working summers for some time now, it’s quite a coo really that he has finally done so. Truth of the matter is the grandkids are getting to that age that they are growing up; it’s the perfect time to spend some time with family and yes hopefully have some fun and relax. This is important information so that you understand the importance of why I even mentioned the whole ‘Stoneboat’ thing. It’s about exposure to hard work, and what it teaches us.
Nowadays, I’m sure most people look at me and think I bet she doesn’t even want to get her nails dirty. Well, sometimes yes that’s true and nowadays, sometimes I don’t have to nor do I want to get my hands dirty. But … if I didn’t hold the title of yes, ‘The StoneBoat Queen’ , I wouldn’t know how to get my hands dirty.
So yes … I, Charis Johannson, was a rock picker, and a damn good one. I also was a post digger, cow wrangler, a wood hauler, field worker but most of all I was a daughter. My dad had a dream, my dad needed help to live the dream … and I was the oldest child … so I got the fun jobs, trust me when I say that I am not complaining in the least. Why was I picking rocks? My dear ol’ dad had cleared land in the back 40 as we called it and wanted to be able to work the land, grow a crop or two, try his hand at being a crop farmer as well as a cattle farmer. If you have never cleared land, especially bush land, you have no idea the work involved in preparing the land even to put in that first crop. When I think about it now, I don’t know how people that farm or my dad for that matter, managed to do it. The shear level of will and perseverance is unreal.
This blog post came into fruition as my son and I were driving out to my parents place last weekend and my son was asking about why the trees were in such odd clumps in the field, or in rows. I paused briefly when he asked, because I realized that as growing up on a farm, the answer was obvious, then … I realized that I raised a city kid. Nothing wrong with that of course but I realized all of the knowledge that he was missing just because he did grow up in the city. Don’t get me wrong there are things that he knows as a city kid that some country kids don’t. Just a different perspective on things. That’s when was appreciative of my upbringing. Not that I always haven’t been thankful. There is something rather special about growing up in the country and a small town. I believe that so much so, that when I found myself a single mom with two little ones, I went back to the country.
Why? I remembered the sense of community that I felt when I was young, everybody knows everyone. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a not so good thing. In this case, it was good. I knew a younger generation than myself and I knew the older generation as well. My grandparents friends, my parents friends, the store owners, the gas station owners, we knew everyone and everyone knew us. It is a sense of security and sense of community that you don’t get in the city. Really … just too many people in the city. (However, on the flip side, this is one of the reasons I moved back to the city, I wanted the privacy and the anonymity.)
Back to ‘The Stoneboat Queen ...
I wouldn’t be who I am today without winning that title. Why? I’m not afraid to tackle anything at all. Maybe that’s where my “No Fear” attitude comes from, and thanks the universe for that. AND … my experience as ‘The Stoneboat Queen’ taught me that I CAN do it. I don’t have to wait for anyone else to help me, it’s given me independence. My title extends to learning about how the pump worked at the farm for the cows and how we needed to keep it warm in the winter so that it didn’t freeze up. I learned how to fence; I learned how to inoculate cattle (although I was just the pusher of the board that kept the cattle in place. I’m telling you… it was a little intimidating when a 1500lb animal is barreling through the shoot because they are terrified and have to pen them in so my dad could give them their injection.) Do I need to know how to do any of those things in my life now? No. But it’s what it taught me about learning new things and just DOING them. No fear.
I learnt that I had strength. Mental and physical strength and I was proud of that. In those days, girls didn’t talk about having muscles and being strong. These days, my strength is inner strength and my biggest muscle is my brain. I wish I still had the physical strength, and that’s about to change. I loved that feeling. I was proud of the work I was able to do with my dad. He might not have thought so at the time with all the griping and complaining of a teenager but I did enjoy it. AND … it was time with my dad. I learned to drive the tractors, the trucks, I learned to listen to an engine to hear what was wrong; I learned how to kick start and engine when the choke wasn’t working. I picked eggs, I watched as the slaughtered beef for meat for the family, and watched as cows, cats, and dogs birthed. He showed me how things worked mechanically and always said, “Charis, you can do this.” I learned about spark plugs, I learned about crops and I learned about septic fields and painting, caulking, and gardening you name it, I had exposure to it. I learned how to swear … lol.
I have told my dad many times over the years that I am so thankful that I spent that time learning all of those things from him. I wouldn’t have been able to survive as a single parent, having to constantly fix and maintain things on my own. The great thing about this is that I have passed on some of these things to my kids. Not enough though, now that I’m thinking about it. I haven’t been able to show them the intricacies of driving a tractor or fencing, but I have instilled in them, that they can do any of it, all of it and not to be afraid to try or to learn. So … I took my youngest son out the backyard and we pruned trees, I explained to him how and why, then I let him do it. AND … he loved it. He was mortified when we cut the live branches off, but I was able to explain to him why it helped the tree grow and how it strengthened the branches that are left. He didn’t understand why we were trimming up the trees until we were done, and he literally sat back and said … “Wow, it looks SO much better!” He didn’t complain once in helping me, but then again, my approach was different … I made it fun instead of being a chore. I also let him shoot baskets every 20 minutes or so to keep him engaged. I want him to grow up being knowledgeable and independent; I want him to be able to feel the gratification of accomplishment in doing things for himself. I also want him to enjoy being outside and in nature even if it’s as small as our own trees in our own backyard. It’s important that we give our kids these life skills, because they sure as hell don’t teach it in school. He cuts the grass now and loves that it’s HIS thing. He wasn’t so impressed the first time when I was “teaching” how I liked the grass to be cut. (I am very particular about the grass, I have to admit) I made him cut the backyard three times over, very patiently explained that the edge of the wheel has to be on the inside of the last cut row so that you don’t leave lines of uncut grass between swaths. My parents taught me that. And … trust me when I say that he will remember that lesson forever as he was none to impressed redoing the grass three times.
So … to my dad that taught me how to work hard, have no fear and to persevere.
To my children … I hope that I have taught you enough to be independent and strong.
To myself … I am still the most rockin’ STONEBOAT QUEEN and I’m damn proud of it.
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Let me not be judged by what I have and have not accomplished but by the remarkable children I have raised. Mother, Business Consultant, Entrepreneur, Designer, Artist.
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