Though the days of cultivating our crops have been gulped up and replaced by sprayers, I was recently recalling a conversation I had with one of our neighborhood farm wives. I had been lamenting over something that had irritated me while I was disking one day, when she giggled and shook her head.

“I think a mistake shows there,” she said, identifying my agreement to learn how to operate a tractor, let alone educate myself on the how-to’s of spring tillage.

If you live on a farm, you know how hard it is to get help–or to pay for help. And it’s not like just anyone knows how to drive a tractor, and can just start in. At least I had the tractor figured out, which prompted my husband one day out of desperation to ask me if I could learn how to cultivate.

No earthquake could hold a candle to the way my knees began to shake. I had disked before, but now there were actually things growing above the ground that I had to keep alive while I killed the weeds next to them. It was a frightening thought….perhaps for both of us.

Aside from the infamous neck pain associated with cultivating, I decided it couldn’t be that hard, since farmers have been teaching their children how to cultivate since the invention of children–so I agreed to try it. How hard could it be, really?

The only bit if wisdom I knew about it before hand was from our local co-op manager who once told me (as he snickered) that, “If you see someone out cultivating and you wave at them and they wave back, it’s the kid who’s in the tractor and not the dad.” So at least I knew I had to look at the rows behind me and the rows in front of me, and not at the cars going by.

My husband cultivated for a couple of rounds, explaining what was what, then he offered me his chair. (Is it just me, or do we often witness them doing such gentlemanly things outside of a tractor cab??)

I assumed the command post after an official briefing, and we started down the rows. First, I couldn’t keep the cultivator on the row. I was used to looking ahead at where I was going, not looking behind to see where I had been. And I certainly was not used to doing both at the same time, at least not so much.

“You’re too close to this row — you better get over,” he instructed gently. So I did.

“Now you’re runnin’ over the corn in front of you — move it over a little,” he said in a little more concerned voice. So I moved it over, and then I was too close in the back again. After several tries at getting that down, exchanging some stress-related sarcasm, and administering a little bit of ‘cultivator blight’ here and there, I felt like I was finally getting it. But I’m sure the stress barometer inside of me was off the charts.

It probably was for my husband as well. He had to have decided after all I was doing wrong that it would be easier to train a monkey how to operate a tractor and cultivator. On the other hand, I was somewhat surprised that I had such trouble with it, since mothers should be meant for this job…what with the eyes we tell our kids that we have in the back of our heads.

I had just gotten to where I thought I might be able to do this job if I drove really slow and carefully, when my husband uttered the words that frightened me the most: “If you’re gonna do a decent job, you have to go a little faster than this.”

My eyes resembled cartoon “spinning eyes” when I heard this; was he serious? I had to go faster?? I took a deep breath and pushed the throttle ahead. Then it came; “You’re too far over on this row here, move it over a little,” he pointed out with an obvious running-out-of-patience voice that he was trying to disguise.

“Well, I’m trying!” I shot back. At that time of major frustration, I decided the pain in my neck from cultivating was sitting next to me in the cab.

“I know you’re trying, but you really have to pay attention,” he said, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten at the thought of leaving me there for the afternoon while he went to work in town.

I cultivated until mid evening. It did get a little easier the more I did it, but I was glad to be done. I dialed up my husband at work to let him know that he could actually eat his supper on his lunch hour, instead of eating antacid tablets as a meal replacement. I’d gotten farther along in the field than either of us thought I would, with only a small spot or two of cultivator blight. The result was a nervous laugh, and a relief-filled and sincere, “Thanks, dear. That really helps out. Was there a lot of traffic by there today?” he inquired.

(“A trap!” I thought to myself!), thinking that he was probably more nervous thinking that other people thought it was him out there looking like an obvious novice.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was watching the rows.”

“Good job,” he happily replied.

I never did tell him that I had already been given that little bit of cultivating wisdom from our local co-op manager.