When I'm at my mother's house for any extended period of time, I often find myself rummaging through old desk drawers, closets, dusty shoeboxes and steamer trunks looking for treasures, such as my baseball card collection, which included a Mickey Mantle rookie card. I envision vast riches and have been looking for it for about 25 years now.
I took up the hunt again this Thanksgiving. No luck on the baseball cards. I did find my 12th grade report card, however. The less said about that the better. Can't imagine how I ever got into college.
I found some keepers, however, including a couple of quilts made by grandmothers before I was born. I have those tucked away in safe places.
I found my army discharge papers, honorable, of course. My high school diploma, which I earned despite my senior year sabbatical, turned up at the bottom of a cardboard box, along with a badge from church and a paint-by-number picture of a horse, which I probably didn't do since all the paint was inside the lines.
I found my high school scrapbook with football, baseball and basketball pictures and clippings.
And in the back of an old desk, the one we used to do our homework (or not), I discovered a Texaco Farm Notebook and Manual of Useful Facts. I found no publication date inside the cover but the calendars on the back were from 1947 and 1948. I was born in 1949, so this little pamphlet has been around longer than I have. I suspect we both could be classified as antiques.
I'm fairly certain the book belonged to my grandfather Griffith, who had a small farm in Anderson County, S.C. A few columns of numbers, under the heading, “items sold,” look like how I remember his writing to be. He used a stubby little pencil, kept in the breast pocket of his bib-overalls along with a notepad and a pocket watch, to figure with. I remember watching him scores of times pull that little notebook out, lick the pencil point and start adding numbers.
There's also a notation under the word “Cecil,” who was my uncle. The note reads:
No explanation of what they were adding. No way ever to know, since both my grandfather and uncle have been dead for many years. But it's a link to a time when life was simpler and folks actually used their heads instead of a calculator or computer to figure things out.
And this book of useful facts offered help in that regard. If my grandfather needed to know how many pounds of apples it took to make a bushel, he turned to page 18. He also could find how many pounds of oats, peaches, pears, corn and coal it took to fill up a bushel basket.
He could measure the amount of hay in a rick, corn in a crib or miles traveled while planting an acre. On page 20, I found interest tables, figured at 3 percent, and a recipe for making whitewash. I also learned that double-riveting is from 16 percent to 20 percent stronger than single-riveting and that one-inch of rainfall means 100 tons of water on every acre.
The manual provides helpful hints on storing a tractor and operating it safely. For instance: “Never dismount from a tractor when it is in motion. Wait until it stops.”
(I was guilty of an early dismount one time, but only because hornets were buzzing around my ears. I later caught up with the tractor.)
I found a section on first aid, which one might need if he jumps off a moving tractor. I also discovered that beating carpets is harmful and “may pull the rugs apart.” Good to know.
The book was never used much. The tractor service record page is blank. The personal data page was never filled in. But I like to think, as I work with a computer and write about farms that use satellite technology, that this pamphlet somehow bridges the gap. The same problems that beset my grandfather's small farm continue to bedevil large and small farms today. They still need to know how much things cost and how much they got for however many bushels they sold.
Fortunately, most have more than a stubby pencil and wire-bound notebook to do the math. But it still has to be done.