Jerry Nelson: Farmstead Olympics
Every four years modern gladiators gather to engage in epic clashes that are held under the unblinking stare of TV cameras. There will be winners and losers; blood will be spilled; lifelong ambitions will be either realized or shattered.
But so much for the presidential debates. This is also the year for the summer Olympics, which were delayed due to the pandemic. My only question is this: will the Olympics continue to be held on odd-numbered years from now on? Or is this a one-time Olympic leap (ha!) year?
While the current Olympics are gobbling up all the attention, scant regard is given to past Olympians who competed in games that involved cosmic feats of athletic ability. I am speaking, of course, of the farmstead Olympics that my seven siblings and I participated in when we were kids.
One of the first sports we tried was archery. There was no archery equipment available on our farm, but that wasn’t a problem. We simply decided to make our own.
We searched in our farm’s grove until we found a likely stick to serve as a bow. The stick was carefully chosen based on its bow-like shape. Another top priority was finding a stick that was conveniently lying on the ground.
A bowstring was swiftly fashioned from a length of used baling twine. Flush with this early success, we then cast about for arrow-making materials. Our goals were to find some sticks that were fairly straight and already lying on the ground.
We had no materials for fletching and putting a tip on the arrow seemed both dangerous and pointless (ha!). An arrow was nocked, and the bowstring was slowly drawn back. But instead of the singing “twang!” of an arrow rocketing toward its target, there came the sickening “crack!” of the bow snapping in two. Hmm. The archer obviously didn’t know his own strength.
It occurred to us that the grove might also hold materials from which we could fashion javelins. A short search uncovered some longish sticks that were somewhat straight. We then spent several minutes perfecting our javelin-throwing techniques. It later occurred to us that we might have shattered even more world javelin-throwing records had our projectiles not become ensnared by low-hanging twigs and branches. Next Olympics, we decided, we would conduct that competition outside the grove.
It was inevitable that some javelins would suffer breakage. A number of heated fencing matches took place after we discovered that that javelin fragments could be repurposed as swords.
The grove was the venue for a dizzying variety Olympic activities. For example, some of the bolder kids invented new artistic gymnastic events that involved climbing a tree and using one of its horizontal branches as a balance beam. While none of us stuck the landing – mainly because all of our dismounts were unplanned – we all received perfect scores. It helps to be related to the judges.
With our confidence soaring due to our arboreal Olympic achievements, we decided to try some aquatic sporting events. The nearest body of water was the round wooden stock tank that was the source of water for our 25 Holstein cows. The shape of the stock tank was the same as the five Olympic circles, so it seemed like the perfect aquatic venue.
The stock tank wasn’t deep enough for swimming unless you were a frog or a water bug. But the water was cool and inviting, so we rolled up our pant legs and waded in.
With only a small amount of imagination, one could easily believe that a pointy stick was a canoe or a rowing scull. After a dramatic countdown, the watercraft were propelled forward via a sharp shove from their owners. Several heats were held before we decided that there was no way to determine, with any amount of accuracy, who had the fastest watercraft. We decided that we were all winners.
When we grew bored of winning in the water, we wandered out to the pasture to hone our discus hurling skills. We didn’t have any actual discuses, so we used dried cow pies. An essential component of this sport was having an eye for selecting discuses that had been thoroughly seasoned. Otherwise, you might be in for a gooey surprise.
At the end of a long day of athletic competitions, we would be tired and grimy. There would be twig fragments in our hair and smelly stains on our clothing.
All of the epic records that we set have long since been forgotten. But we will always remember those warm summer days when we basked in the glow of farmstead Olympics glory.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.