|The Back Forty
By Roger Pond
It was just one little word, but I could see we were headed for trouble. I wrote, “the mud and manure was about two feet deep” and the editor changed that to “the mud and manure muck was about two feet deep.”
“Let’s leave out the word ‘muck’,” I said. “I don’t think we need it.”
“I put that in because mud and manure is two things, and we were using the verb ‘was’,” she explained. “I added the word ‘muck’ to make it singular. Muck is a good farm word, isn’t it?”
“No,” I said. “And I don’t think we need it.”
“But you muck-out the stable, don’t you?” she countered.
“I suppose you could muck-out a stable,” I said. “But I wouldn’t do it.”
I was reminded of my wife’s friend who used to tell her kids to “dung-out their rooms.” In all my years on a farm, and all my years working with farmers and ranchers I’ve never once heard the word “muck,” except to describe a highly organic soil.
Farmers don’t have stables, either. Martha Stewart has stables. If farmers have horses, they keep them in a barn.
Furthermore, mud and manure isn’t two things when it’s found in a barnyard. Mud and manure becomes one thing in a matter of minutes.
It’s called “shud,” according to an agricultural engineer from Oregon. Everyone who’s been through the barnyard knows what that is.
I wanted to suggest “shud” to the editor, but I knew it wouldn’t help. We finally agreed to call it a mud and manure mixture, a mix, or combination. (By this point I didn’t care what we called it.)
Finally, we got to the end of my basketball story, the part where my neighbor, Jerry, races past me and goes in for a lay-up. He slips on the haymow floor and hits the mow door going full-speed. Jerry goes sailing out over the barnlot before his shot goes in.
“I ran to the door and realized Jerry left the arena before the ball went through the basket. Maybe I could disqualify the points because the shooter wasn’t present? But how could he know he made it?”
“You missed!” I shouted. (End of story.)
The editor tacked on another paragraph.
“I don’t think we need the last paragraph,” I told her. “I liked the ending the way it was.”
“But we need to refer back to the beginning of the story,” she said.
“Refer to the beginning?” I thought. I’ve been writing these things for more than 20 years, I didn’t know you were supposed to refer to the beginning?
My stories have a beginning and an end, but it’s not always the same thing. I’m lucky if it’s even the same subject.
I was reminded of the first rule of writing: “When you’re done, quit.”
Don’t tack on some kind of summary. That’s the way I’ve always done it, and I’m not about to change now.
This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.