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Combing the fringe

Posted Monday, February 6, 2012, at 4:50 PM

As a child, the foyer of my parent's home had two large oriental rugs, and every so often, I'd brush the fringe straight with a lime green comb.

Combing the fringe. This was my suburban mother's idea of a chore. Eager to help, I did it willingly.

As time progressed, the list of chores and I both grew. Eventually, a rag and bottle of Windex worked its way into my tools. Using these, I sprayed and wiped the glass table tops in the living room. When watering the plants, my father taught me to put a few drops of plant food in the blue watering can. Sometimes, I'd empty the bathroom trash cans. During the summer, I'd wash the cars. Eventually, my mother even let me vacuum.

After I completed a babysitting course at the local YMCA, I "worked" for my aunt. I played Super Mario Bros. with her kids and prepared Campbell's chicken noodle soup for lunch. Once while watching a family friend's child, the little boy sat in front of a fan, star struck for two whole hours. "The fan is going off! The fan is going on! The fan is going round-and-round-and-round." To me, this was work.

These chores were fairly typical for a suburban girl. I certainly wasn't the only kid on my street who emptied trash cans, watered plants and babysat.

Several weeks ago, I edited Marcia Gorrell's first column about pending amendments to child labor laws. These laws could restrict rural children from driving tractors and helping out on family farms. Initially, I reacted with horror, and I struggled to imagine children driving tractors.

However, soon some lighthearted banter between my desk and Marcia's proved rural chores were just like so many other things I've had to relearn since I've moved from suburban St. Louis to Saline County. Just as Marcia had explained tractor pulls and livestock shows to me this summer, she explained banning farm work would be like banning babysitting.

Now that, I could understand.

Marcia spoke about the work ethic her two sons gained from working on the farm. To be perfectly honest, combing the fringe didn't come with work ethic or pride. I readily admit as a child I rarely "worked" for anything. At 4 feet tall, the closest I came to driving a tractor would have been a bumper boat at Swing Around Fun Town. I never brought in cattle, but I did walk my neighbor's dog. Furthermore, Windexing table tops subjected me to minimal grime. Even my nicest dress (with a matching bow) survived the chore. My single encounter with work clothes came at age 7 when I donned cut-offs and a plaid shirt during a dance recital. While the get-up certainly matched the "If I Only Had a Brain" choreography, the ballet slippers didn't quite fit.

Since Marcia started composing these columns, she's explained why driving tractors isn't dangerous and why kids enjoy farm work -- just as I enjoyed washing the car and walking the dog.

I'm not a farming expert, and I don't pretend to be. After eight months in rural Missouri, the only rural lesson I've learned is to consult Marcia before I open my mouth about agriculture. Having grown up in suburbia, I still suffer from multiple misconceptions about farm life. I'm not sure if I agree with the proposed changes, but perhaps allowing children to drive tractors isn't as irresponsible as suburbanites are often led to believe.

Marcia's latest column discusses the reevaluation of the amendments and explains the importance of rural input. Her strong argument for family farming illustrates the minimal number of work-related injuries and explains the modern safety measures to ensure farm safety.

While Marcia and I may have bantered about a few of the issues, we both agree many of the people making the decisions have as much understanding of rural Missouri as I do. Minimal to none.

If you feel strongly about the issue, I encourage you to submit your comments carefully. Some of the decision makers could be former fringe-combers just like me.

Marcia's first column: http://www.marshallnews.com/blogs/1146/e...

Contact Maggie Menderski at mmenderski@marshallnews.com


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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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