|THE BEST THINGS
IN LIFE ARE FREE
There was a popular song many years
ago with the title, "The Best Things in Life Are Free" and I have come
to realize that it is true. One of the lines of that song was, "The moon
belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free" and I submit that
any sailor who ever stood on deck at midnight on a quiet summer night and
watched the moon shine on a glassy sea while listening to the hiss as your
ship sliced through the ocean depths will agree with me that this was one
of the really great moments in your life.
But I learned this lesson at a much
I have mentioned before that I worked
on a farm for a local farmer when I was a boy of 15 or so. The farmer's
name was Lunsford, a tight-fisted old guy who lived about ten miles out
of town and I would ride my bicycle out to the farm every morning. This
routine started around the first of July when wheat and rye were ripe and
ready for threshing.
No combines back then. We got into the
wheat field about 7:00 a.m. By 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., my clothes were sopping
wet with sweat. My shoes were filled with sweat and would make a sloshing
noise when I walked. The job consisted of picking up a couple of wheat
stalks in one hand, then gathering up an armload of wheat stalks in the
other arm and tying them all together with the strands I had in my other
hand. No string, no binders, no binder twine back then. When you had accumulated
four or five bundles of wheat, you stood them all up together in a shock
and topped it off with one on top. Rye was gathered the same way but rye
is a much taller plant than wheat and you had the added torment of the
rye thistles finding their way down inside your shirt collar, pants, and
Then came one of those "freebies" I've
been talking about. Mr. Lunsford would call for a rest stop about 10:00
a.m. when we reached a place adjacent to a grove of trees with blessed
shade. We plopped down beneath the trees and felt a cool soft breeze play
over our sweaty bodies while we drank the cold water Mrs. Lunsford had
carried to our sanctuary. What can be better than a cool breeze and a glass
of ice water when it's 95 degrees, 75 percent humidity and you feel as
if you've just stepped out of a brick kiln?
Back to work after ten minutes or so
of ecstasy and no more breaks until noon when Mrs. Lunsford called us for
dinner. (Back then, dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening
meal.) Dinner usually consisted of boiled potatoes with gravy, green beans,
several slices of salt pork fried to a crispness that made it edible, bread
and butter, and a glass of cold milk.
With Mr. Lunsford, there was no lingering
at the dinner table. Soon we were back out in the wheat field and our half-dried
clothes were wet with sweat again.
Another 10-minute break at 3:00, another
blissful few moments shielded from the blistering sun, then no more breaks
until 6:00 p.m.
Down the road a mile or two was another
farm with two farm boys whom I knew well. After leaving Mr. Lunsford's
place, we would meet at a spot located on the Whitewater River back of
the Lunsford farm for our daily baths. They, too, had toiled all day in
their father's wheat fields so this final pleasure was our grand reward,
one of the best of all pleasures, to dive and swim and frolic in the cool
waters of that grand old river. This was like a baptism, a cleansing away
of the "filth of the flesh" as Paul the Apostle said.
Finally came the bicycle ride back to
town, a ten-mile jaunt that was nothing to me then but would be a death
sentence to me now. Mom had supper waiting for me, fresh corn on the cob,
fresh sliced tomatoes, fried potatoes, some sort of meat, bread and butter,
a plain old down home meal that tasted as if it was made for the Gods.
Life wasn't easy back then but we sure
learned our lessons, one of the most important being, "The best things
in life are free."