tractor in a field

“I done it”

When I decided I wanted to try and write in my retirement, this is one of the first stories I completed for a class on personal essays.

“I done it’

“I done it.” Three words. To the educated, these words sound ignorant and are the cause of ridicule for the people who say them. But when these words are looked at through the lens of culture, upbringing, and belief, they can be some of the most powerful words spoken.

I was raised on a farm in Eastern Colorado and this was the language of our community. We spoke this language every day; we understood it and we did not know it was grammatically incorrect. Maybe our teachers should have corrected us, but the teachers we had in the 1970’s had no desire to be teaching in our town. Several of them told us the only reason they were forced to teach in a rural community was because they were such poor students in college they couldn’t get a job anywhere else. This was not good for us, because one of these teachers was our English teacher. She did not teach me that, “I done it,” was incorrect. She just looked at us farm kids, who smelled of farm and manure and were covered with the grease and grime of hard work, as ignorant hicks. I played more card games in her class than I had lessons.  Unfortunately, when I went to college, I learned quickly you need to know how to write to succeed and you cannot use grammar that sounds like, “I done it”.

During my first quarter in college I had a philosophy class and the professor asked us to write a research paper. I did not know how to write a research paper so I walked up to him and said, “I don’t know how to write a paper.” He looked at me like he didn’t understand what I was saying and said, “It’s just a research paper.” I walked away and didn’t tell him that I didn’t even know how to write an organized paragraph, let alone a paper.

When I needed to turn in the report I wrote a creative little paper about the Gods of the future – One and Ten. I’m sure the writing was horrible, but he liked the idea and gave me a passing grade. It was about the future and archeologists were digging up artifacts about the Gods One and Ten. It was about football and how the quarterback and offensive players were worshiped.  I also had another paper due in a science class and I couldn’t BS my way out of it. I lasted two and a half years in college before I had to drop out because of poor grades.

tractor in field of wheat

I did construction work and worked on the farm during my time off. But, staying on the farm was never an option. My father was very determined that his sons (there were four Pickens boys) would all get an education and get away. Farm life is physically and financially hard and he did not want us to live like this. He never directly told me that I was going to college, but I knew because he told other farmers that his kids were not coming back.

My dad would tell other farmers this whenever there was a desperate situation in our little town of Flagler. Often this happened when we went to a farm sale (which happened frequently when I was growing up) because the farmer was forced into foreclosure because their crops had been hailed out one to many times. These farm sales were depressing as you watched the farmer, who had lost their place, shooting darting glances at the other farmers and then staring at the ground. It seemed their bodies would slump a little more every time they heard the auctioneer say, “Going once, going twice, sold to…”, and then another piece of farm equipment was gone. The auctioneers pointing finger was like a magic wand, making the equipment disappear. And for every piece of equipment that disappeared a little more of the farmers purpose in life drained away. People milling around the auction site would ask each other, “Do you know what he is going to do.” Often the people didn’t know and in a week or two the farmer was gone. My father knew this could be him  and he would tell the farmer standing next to him, “My kids are going to college, I don’t want them to have this hard life.”

Since I had to drop out of college and didn’t know how to be a student, I didn’t know how I was going to make it when I went back. But, we were raised with a strong belief of, “I done it.” This, “I done it” attitude came from my father. Most farmers had very good shops so they could repair their own machinery; our family had an excellent shop. If my dad felt like we needed something that would help us, we had it. It was never fancy because we couldn’t afford to buy it, so we made it. One time he decided we needed a winch truck. He loaded us boys into one of our trucks and we drove 20 miles to the nearest junk yard. We climbed over heaps of junk until we had enough iron, motors and switches to make the type of truck he wanted. We took our oldest farm truck and removed the back. We then took an acetylene torch, and with sparks flying, we started cutting the metal that we got from the junk yard to size. We used a chain hoist to  position the metal where we needed it, used a grinder to make things fit perfectly and then welded it. After it was welded together and wired, we had a very sturdy functional winch truck.

I had to take some of the “I done it” attitude and learn how to be a student. I applied to a different college, was accepted and started for a second time. This time when a professor asked me to write a research paper, I didn’t tell him I didn’t know how. Instead, I found the student tutoring services center and received help writing my papers. College was still a struggle, especially when I compare how easy it was for my friends who had a good high school education. But, I graduated with very good grades.

The other day my wife and I were watching television and they had a farmer say, “I done it.” They were trying to capture the “cuteness” and “ignorance” of country life. However, country life is not cute and ignorant, it is difficult and a challenge few people understand. Through this you learn strong values and beliefs. Because of these values and beliefs I have a brother who is an attorney, another who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, and a third brother who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science. As for me, I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation, and a second master’s degree in special education.

The Pickens brothers, well, “We all done it.”