Jim Hamilton

I was just 13 years old when I pinned on my FFA Greenhand pin, and not nearly as serious as I should have been about my vocational agriculture studies.

I know I should have been. FFA was serious business in our household. Dad’s FFA ring was one of the few mementoes he had saved from high school.

But, after all, I was a 13-year-old boy. I had more on my mind than crop science or animal husbandry. Besides, our ridiculous Greenhand initiation rites — wearing a tow sack and a garlic necklace, to class — kind of set the tone for the whole year.

My favorite part of freshman vo-ag was the farm trips we took almost weekly. We started every day with two hours in ag, ample time for both education and mischief. I’m sure schools would not allow such field trips today — 15 or 20 boys piled in the back of the teacher’s cattle truck hauled all across the county while clinging to rickety stock racks. It was a scene right out of a B-grade teen movie and our plots much the same.

On one such trip to a layer house, we all loaded our pockets with eggs pilfered from the nests, then proceeded to decorate every road sign between the farm and school, as well as the cab and windshield of Mr. Henson’s old truck.

On another visit to a farm near Marshfield, one of our group extended the visit by removing the valve stem cores from all of the truck tires, stranding the highly amused lot of us miles from the school. Mr. Henson was considerably less than amused, and because I had a valve stem tool in my pocket from fixing tires at home, it looked as if I were the culprit. I wasn’t, and I was sure I didn’t have a clue how ornery John flattened all those tires — or how anyone knew I had that shiny little tool secreted in my jeans pocket.

Of course, all our trips didn’t end in mischief. For example, we found the exercise of docking lambs’ tails at a farm south of Fair Grove too gross to make fun of. I guess it was the smell of burning wool as that hot docking iron cauterized the remaining stub of tail that did it. I learned on that trip I never wanted anything to do with sheep.

Also, at a visit to a nearby dairy farm we were amazed at the green grass in a frozen pasture — only later did we learn it was something called “fescue.”

Being freshman aggies, though, we didn’t have to even leave the classroom to rile Mr. Henson. I have to admit to my role in one such occasion when a dozen or so of us disrupted class by clicking little thumb snappers — we called them crickets — hidden under our heels. You can imagine the racket, first on one side of the room, then the other, then all together. That’s when a visibly angered teacher announced, “I can still slap ears,” as he ousted two or three of my classmates from the room. Pretty quickly the sound of the crickets was drowned out by the laughter of ornery adolescent boys. My role? I got the handful of snappers advertising some brand of shoes from an uncle who owned a shoe store in Ava. I’m sure he never suspected what I would do with them, and I never told him.

Now, when I look at kids in FFA today, I don’t see many like we were as Greenhands in that fall of 1961. They’re much more mature today, possibly owing to fact many are girls. We were a juvenile stag club in my day.

And, thankfully, most of us outgrew that mischievous stage before the next year. In my case, after grade cards came out in May, Dad left me no choice. He simply said, “Things will be different next year,” and didn’t have to add the implied “or else.”

Sure enough, they were. From the fall of 1962 through graduation in May 1965, I was an honor student, even an FFA officer. Dad, true to his reverence for FFA, went with me to my FFA banquets (the only school event he ever attended) and never balked at covering my chores when I went to FFA contests, trips or conventions.

But, when I was a mere lad of 13 ….

Copyright 2021, James E. Hamilton; email jhamilton000@centurytel.net. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online or from the author.

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