GAYS MILLS - I just read a book from the Gays Mills Public Library that I found very interesting and I think you might, too. In fact, I know a lot of people around here that could write a similar book. It’s called Ridge Stories, by Gary Jones, and tells stories from his life growing up in the 1950s on a small, ridge-top dairy farm over in Richland County.
Jones and I are about the same age, so it was interesting to read about his experiences living a life that I imagined, and still do, was the best way to grow up. It was a different time, for sure, a time when small family farms were still very common, one-room elementary schools were still in use, and the technology of the day was a party-line phone and a radio.
The Jones farm had a herd of about 20 dairy cows. That sized herd was not unusual in the early 50’s. They raised the usual crops, a few pigs, and Mrs. Jones raised a large garden and chickens, both for eggs and meat. Gary grew into being involved in all phases of the farm operation as were most farm kids, but he was not drawn to the farming life as a career. That involvement though, the inherent work ethic it fostered, the teamwork involved, and the sense of responsibility it engendered helps shape anyone who grew up on a farm and it did with Jones. Although he went on to become a teacher and lives elsewhere, he bought and still owns 80 acres of the home farm.
The book has many short chapters, some of which deal with the time before Jones was in the picture, stories and legends of earlier settlers and colorful characters in the neighborhood. However, most of the stories he tells are from his own personal history. The writing is straightforward, honest, sometimes humorous and often moving. Readers will naturally time travel back in time with Jones as they read and recall similar thoughts and feelings about their own coming of age, whether they are farm raised or otherwise.
Jones writes fondly of going to a one-room school. He talked about walking there and taking short cuts across neighbors’ fields, talked about the cold lunch program (everyone packed their own), putting on school plays and programs, and especially about recess. Sledding was a biggie for the students at Pleasant Ridge, and being on top of the ridge they had some fine sledding opportunities.
Other chapters in the book deal with topics such as overalls, making hay, getting up wood, gathering and processing nuts, using a party-line phone, gardening, free-range chickens, and threshing grain.Reading this book made me nostalgic for the good old days of family farms. Someone told me once that the most important things raised on a farm are the kids. I don’t doubt that that is true. I think we lose some things, some important things, as we rush toward bigger farms, and faster, more connected lives.