Working up a real good sweat

By Rick Houser – 

It has always been true that the farm life was the only way for me when I was a younger man. I enjoyed the challenges and took pride in the accomplishments and I felt like I had so much to do with it. In the years when I was on the farm it seemed that almost every task was done manually. True, there was always hard labor involved but I felt full of energy and strong as a bull, so working hard wasn’t a problem. You know, as they say it was “no sweat”.
But that was the part of the farming really hated- sweating. It seemed that everything we had to do meant sweat. It is in my family’s genes that we didn’t just sweat a little, oh no we would sweat buckets! It seemed that no matter the time of year or what we were doing, one thing for sure was that I was going to sweat. I didn’t complain much because everyone around me was wiping their faces with a bandana too, so it was safe to say that there wouldn’t be any pity coming my way even if I did complain. Also, working alongside my Dad and my brother Ben, who possessed the same sweaty genes, was just one more reason to keep a jug of drinking water close at hand.
When we were putting in hay, it not only multiplied the amount of sweat, but the chafe from the hay would stick to any moist areas it could reach and along with being hot, you quickly became itchy. In the hay, the stubble on the side of the bale would scrape your arms and along with the chafe and sweat create a very miserable day in the field and barn. Whenever we got close to water and could rinse ourselves, we briefly would get some much-needed relief.
Things became even worse during the tobacco housing season. Working in the tobacco patch, you first had to carry armloads of tobacco sticks that could usually be full of splinters and rough to handle. To load these on your shoulder and walk through rows of head-high tobacco on a hot day would create sweat quickly. Once that was completed, you began to cut the tobacco. Reaching for a stalk at a time you would step forward and bend and cut the stalk off at the ground, then return to where you began and getting back upright, you would lift the stalk over your head and impale it on a sphere and on to the tobacco stick. This meant usually six stalks to a stick and some men would cut 800 to 1000 sticks a day. Have your personal trainer try this drill and see how much they sweat.
By the end of the first hour my shirt was dripping wet and that isn’t an exaggeration. I would take two or three bandanas to the fields with me. By the time I had cut an average row, a bandana was saturated, so I would take the wet one off, rinse it a little, and hang it to dry, then I would put on a dry one. If I didn’t do this, the sweat would get into my eyes and they would burn so much from the salt in the sweat that I wouldn’t be able to see a thing.
It was not uncommon to see men with white all over their faces from all the salt that had come out through their sweat. On some days, I have lost seven to nine pounds in body weight. When you would take the tobacco to the barns to be hung, it could get so hot in the barn that when you walked back outside, you absolutely didn’t have a dry stitch of clothing on your body. (By the way all that sweat didn’t leave you smelling very sweet either.)
It just seemed that all the farm work involved some kind of bending and stretching and most of the time there was plenty of grime and dirt to stick to you also. I guess that was considered an added bonus for us, but I guess all that came with the territory.
A few years I stopped farming and moved away from the farm. One hot summer afternoon I was sitting in the house in the air conditioning and watching television when it dawned on me. Hey, you don’t do near the manual labor you used to do. At first I thought there was something wrong with this but the more I thought about it the more I accepted that I liked not having to sweat as often as I had in all those farming years.
Please understand that I do still love the fact that I grew up a farmer, doing plenty of hard work. I actually am proud that not only could I do those tasks, but I did do those tasks. On super hot days, we all complained, “man, it is hot today”. We didn’t go to the house and turn on the air conditioning. I also know many of you are going to say, of course you didn’t do that because none of you had air conditioning.
With the years moving forward, I am less apt now to head to any field and sweat too much. I do my sweaing when I am weed eating or mowing the lawn. Also, I have been fortunate to hold positions of employment where I was at a desk. I have been blessed with this good fortune. I know there are men that sweat until they are soaking wet almost every day on their jobs and I’m sure they don’t complain either, knowing it comes with the territory.
When it came to my job, I didn’t complain either. It is a fact that I never wanted to leave agriculture and the way of life I was raised in. But I will tell you all this . I don’t for one second miss the sweating. I guess it was one of the parts of that trade from the farm to the suburbs. I’ll take that in a heartbeat!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He would be more than willing to come and speak about it. He may be reached at