The Planted Row: Choose safety over a good story

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

Songwriter Mac McAnally once said in a presentation at my high school that the reason there are so many writers from Mississippi is that everyone there has so much time on their hands. There might be a little truth to that — life does move a little slower down South.

The real reason, however, is that the state has a culture of storytelling. Most people you will meet there like to talk, and we enjoy swapping good stories almost as much as we enjoy our excellent food.

Maybe that’s why my daughter begs me to tell her stories at bedtime — and Brothers Grimm tales just won’t do. She demands to hear all my best personal stories.

Generally, this is a good thing, and we have a lot of fun. However, I’m starting to run out of stories.

So, in desperation, I’ve told her about all the stupid, dangerous things I used to do on the farm. Like holding BB gun wars with my friends … while driving mopeds 35 mph down gravel roads. Or launching bottle rockets and M-80 firecrackers at each other with crossbows meant for sucker darts (or slingshots in a pinch). Or trying to make bombs with chemicals from a chemistry set. Or driving ATVs way too fast and playing “Dukes of Hazzard” by jumping over the farm’s drainage ditches. Or doing the same thing in a car over railroad tracks. Or driving down back roads at 100 mph.

They make for pretty fun stories. My daughter responded with glee, of course, and said, “I want to do that! Let’s live in Mississippi. It’s like Jersey — everything is legal there!”

I had to remind her that, even in the ‘80s in Mississippi, my shenanigans were not legal and were completely unsafe. If my father had found out what I was doing, you can bet that he would have put a swift end to that nonsense and would have given me what he liked to call a “reminder” to make sure I learned my lesson.

What I didn’t tell her was the sheer terror I felt in the moment when I thought I had just killed myself and my younger sister by going a little too fast and jumping a little too high on the four-wheeler. I didn’t tell her about the guilt and fear I felt when I shot my friend Lynn with a BB gun and watched as he nearly lost control of the moped he was driving.

When we’re young, death seems like an impossibility — something that only happens to other people. So terrible moments like those are quickly forgotten as we move onto the next adventure. With age we are granted the wisdom to see all the times when only luck saved us from serious injury, and we learn to move a little more carefully through the world.

Last weekend, there were three fatal accidents near Aberdeen. One of them involved an ATV. In the other two, teenagers lost their lives in vehicles on the road. These tragedies have served as the harshest reminder that it only takes an instant for disaster to strike.

This week is National Farm Safety and Health Week, and as we remember the families of the lost in our prayers, we should also remember that not all rural accidents happen on a tractor. We should try to remain alert as we do even the most routine things, like driving down the road.

Look out for each other, and be a lot more careful than I was when I was younger and dumber.