Years ago, the editor of our local newspaper, The Smithfield Times, began to write a column called “In the Short Rows.” The column is a combination of various subjects. Sometimes, he details his life growing up on his family farm and the surrounding community in the 1940s. Other times, he writes about local events, both social and political, and gives his perspective. He also often writes about Southern culture in general, including everything from food to common sayings. In 2009, he published his first book, which was compilation of numerous articles he had written over the years. That Christmas, a copy of the book ended up at his brother’s house, a man who happens to be my grandfather. Over the course of a few days before I returned to college, I tore through the book. By the end of it, I began to think about the differences between my uncle’s life on the farm and my own.
On the one hand, the occupation is more uncommon nowadays. For my uncle’s generation, the profession was not very widespread. For mine, it is almost non-existent. That is not the major difference, however, between our worlds. The difference, is not how rare the practice has become, but how increasingly uncommon the lifestyle surrounding it now is. For my uncle, even if his peers were not farmers, they all inhabited a world that was predominantly rural and rustic. To me, that is part of the reason why his column has garnered as much success as it has. My uncle and his readers emotionally connect with a subject matter that he so eloquently gives a voice to.
For my generation, though, the lifestyle itself, and not just the job, is dying out. Living and working in the countryside no longer means living a rural life. In most circumstances, you can have all of the same amenities as someone living in a suburban or urban setting. That is why growing up on the farm felt different, felt special, because it was really a world in of itself. As I have gotten older, though, even that has started to change. Slowly but surely, that world has been taken over and incorporated into the contemporary one around it. In essence, my generation represents the transitional one. The kids who grew up learning multiplication tables in the back of a tractor, but went to school with all of the other kids who learned them on a computer. In a lot of ways we are the last of our kind, and a lot of times I wonder if my kids will ever know the lifestyle I did growing up.
So, I have decided to take a page from my uncle’s book, no pun intended, and write about it. Partly to record it for future generations, partly to reminisce with as well as give a voice to those who share and shared this world with me, and partly to inform those who never had any part of it at all. My uncle calls his column “In the Short Rows” for a very specific reason. Fields in this part of the country are made between patches of forest and other natural boundaries like rivers and marshes. Therefore, fields are normally molded around these things, making them look more like blotches than nice squares and rectangles. The short rows are just that, the shorter rows near the end of field. By making it there, the person working in that field was almost done. So for him, getting to his end of the week column for the paper was like being in the short rows when he was a kid.
The funny thing is, the short rows really do not exist anymore in that sense. Working fields by hand, at least for what is grown around here, has become very uncommon. Now, everything has been taken over by machinery and tractors, meaning the short rows are generally not much quicker than the long ones. The short rows are a thing of the past for my generation. Still, living in a world that at times seems singularly devoted to the past, the short rows have meaning. They represent an era that my generation did not live through, but is heavily influenced by. No matter what changes our world experiences, the short rows will be part of the foundation that makes us who we are. In other words, this about life “After the Short Rows.”