I come from a family of farmers and military people. I considered joining the military twice in the 1990s. Both times I was interested in the military bands. Both times I realized that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was not going to work in my favor. It’s still possible that I could become a farmer though.
My grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
My father grew up on a farm in central Georgia in the 1930s and ‘40s. I was always under the impression that my dad grew up poor on a subsistence farm during the Great Depression. When I recently asked him about his experience of growing up on a farm, what he told me led to a major shift in my perception.
In August of 1943, as my dad was going into first grade, my Grandfather Mullis bought a 300 acre farm. My dad recalled was that is was purchased for around $5000. Before that, they had been farmers as far back as the Civil War but had rented farms. My dad was born in 1937 at the end of the Depression, and as he grew up, he experienced farming as it transitioning from traditional methods to more modern ways. When the family first moved to the farm, there was no electricity — the utility lines stopped down the road from the farm and the extension to the house was put on pause during the war — and the farm house was heated with a wood stove and lit with kerosene lamps.
The Mullis farm was a successful, medium-sized family farm that my grandfather owned for 30 years. This semi-organic farm produced cotton, peanuts, corn, peas, tomatoes, lima beans, ocra, watermelon and other crops. They also had some livestock and some fig, peach and pecan trees. They sold their produce wholesale and retail. My dad told me about how they had a regular stand at the Macon farmer’s market in the 1950s and ’60s (he slept at the stand when it was in its busy season). As an aside, I lived in Georgia when I was three years old in 1967 when my dad was in school at the University of Georgia. One of my earliest memories is a visit to a cavernous warehouse, sitting in rocking chair and listening to the Kingston Trio on the radio while my dad talked with friends — I now realize this was the farmer’s market where my dad worked a youth and he was visiting with me in tow.
I asked my dad why he didn’t go into farming and he said that his father discouraged him from it: the profits and income were unpredictable along with the weather, and it was very hard work. My dad went to college, earned a degree in physics and then joined the Air Force. That’s where he met my mother, who was also stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque in November 1962. After he finished his time in the military in 1966, he returned to Georgia for more school. Then we moved back to Albuquerque in 1968 where he returned to work as a civilian at KAFB until he retired.
My mother was still in the Air Force at KAFB when I was born in Albuquerque in 1964. Her father was a career Navy officer (who was at Pearl Harbor in December 1941), but my mom’s grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. Her mother grew up on a farm in Ft. Morgan, Colorado. That farm — the Barlow Farm — was in the family until 2000 when that generation passed on and it was sold. The farm house is long gone and the land is a subdivision, complete with a giant WalMart.
My grandfather Mullis sold the Georgia farm in 1973 for around $80k. My dad considered buying it with one of his brothers but he decided going back to farming was not the right move since he was well into his career as a physicist. My grandfather sold the farm and bought a barbershop in Hawkinsville, Georgia. I spent the rest of my youth growing up in Albuquerque…not on a farm. Then I went to college in Greeley, Colorado, an hour’s drive west of the Barlow farm. My dad is in his 80s and still lives in Albuquerque — but I can tell that he has a lot of nostalgia for his time on the farm.
So, I did not grow up on a farm. Or join the military.