Tag Archives: farm

The Irresistible Power of Dirt

Betty and Harold Motte with their Uncle Mike Powers at Mimi and Da’s, late 1940’s.

We’re posing for a photo, probably on a Sunday since we have on shoes and socks. Da’s field behind us beckons where we loved digging for arrowheads. We found quite a few over those summers…

Even though I live in a condo I’ve been watching a lot of Home and Garden TV lately, admiring the way talented landscapers transform an ordinary lawn into a sunken garden complete with waterfall. I’m with them – no more mowing! But then my thoughts and memories began to wander back a few decades, to my childhood days of playing outside in the yard.

We didn’t have “lawns” in those days. Everybody had a front yard and a back yard, maybe a side yard too. Gardens were where you planted tomatoes and butter beans and some city yards had a little garden too, way at the back of their regular yard.

To a city kid raised in the middle of town, ordinary grass was what everybody had in their yard, unexciting, turned-brown-in-the-summer, plain grass. There might be a little square of bare dirt in an unpaved driveway or neighborhood park, but it was usually a puny little patch.

But on those summer occasions when my brother and I got to spend time at Mimi’s house, we had great expanses of exciting, inviting dirt. She did have some flower beds near the house which were strictly off-limits, but she also had something us city-dwellers didn’t have – a huge side yard and back yard full of mostly weed-free dirt.

The color of dirt can be quite varied here in the Pee Dee, ranging from blackish-brown just right to plant vegetables, to gooey yellow clay that seldom washed completely out of your clothes, to whitish-tan sandy stuff. Mimi’s dirt was medium brown, not gooey at all but sort of sandy.

Mimi’s dirt was just right for us little kids with long summer days to fill with exploration, excavation and other assorted outdoor fun. It didn’t make sticky tracks in the house, which was a good thing, considering that a favorite pastime was running in and out of the house with a brief pause in the kitchen for a drink of cool water.

There’s just something about the smell of dirt right before, during and after a summer rain shower. If it only sprinkled and didn’t pour, you got the full flavor of it. It drew you right outside to splash or stomp, if you could find the right size puddle.

You could make neat mud pies to serve to your companions – usually a kitten or an old doll baby in my case. Or if the dirt was just damp and not soppy wet, you could draw major house plans which would stay put on the ground for a while. Dry dirt was better for playing marbles, of course.

The texture of dirt was also interesting. Once the weather warmed up we went barefooted most of the time. That first feel of hot summer dirt on my bare feet was so luscious, so luxuriating, the grit between my toes was hardly noticeable. If we had to put on sandals for a ride to the store, we seldom washed our feet first. Why wash? They were just going to get dirty again soon. Sandals off, back to bare feet ASAP, that was our motto.

In examining the possibilities of dirt, we discovered that sandy dirt doesn’t stick together too well unless it’s just the right consistency and dampness. Even then, when it dries out it tends to fall apart. You needed to mix in a bit of granddaddy’s dirt to make good building material, such as for walls around a mud puddle to keep beetles or small turtles in, or to deepen the puddle for floating twig-boats and popsicle-stick barges.

Da’s field dirt was darker brown than Mimi’s yard dirt. A cross between sandy and loamy, the dirt in the plowed fields beyond the house was where granddaddy planted watermelons, or tobacco, or cotton. After his tractor made neat straight rows but before the seeds went in, that dirt was perfect for investigating and excavating.

We loved digging there for arrowheads. We found quite a few over those summers but for some strange reason Mimi and Da didn’t want us to make real arrows with them, just save them for “show and tell” at school later on. When not on one of our archeological digs, Da’s field was excellent for seeing how deep we could bury our feet, or shoveling up a bucket full for later use.

I haven’t gone barefooted in years but I believe my feet retain the memory! The closer summer gets, the more my toes seem to yearn for Mimi’s warm yards and Da’s fresh-plowed fields. I really have fond memories of most things about dirt, except the tin tub baths that Mimi insisted we take at night to remove it from our persons.