The clean-cut boys and girls in their blue and gold FFA jackets make me so proud to be a former member. That was certainly the case when I saw on the front page of my weekly copy of the Voice News of Hickman, Nebraska, FFA members from the Freeman Chapter harvesting over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, beans, cantaloupe, cucumbers and zucchini that they gave to needy area residents and food pantries. Although I’m quite sure the zucchini was probably later returned under the cover of darkness. They also grew something called swiss chard and kale, which in my gardening days were known as weeds!
Most FFA chapters have such activities where they strive to make their community a better place to live. And I salute them. In our town our big community effort was the annual roadside cleanup. This was back in the day when motorists thought nothing of opening the car window to empty their trash. So it was a big job and we were aided by Lions Club members who drove the trucks we filled with trash.
I must admit, I dreaded the day because it was a lot of hard work and I almost picked up a rattlesnake one time. But my Grandpa lived for roadside cleanup, although my Grandmother definitely didn’t. Just the words “roadside cleanup” were enough to make her break down and sob for she knew that if anything “good” was found it would end up in her house. Probably in the living room.
There is a big park named for my Grandpa in my town because he put on rodeos to build it. He was Chief of our volunteer fire department for decades, Honorary Chapter Farmer and a stalwart of our community, except on this day when his behavior was somewhat suspect. He voted himself the Inspector General and it was he who performed the mandatory check on every truck so that he might redirect it to his house if he found any “keepers” that were worthy of his museum.
We picked up a lot of flat tires and flotation cushions that flew out of boats. We also picked up Studebaker hubcaps and chromed car graffiti that would be worth a fortune today on eBay. We also found some weird stuff like a chicken coop (empty) and handgun (not empty). We even found a watch that had probably followed a beer can out the window when the passenger threw it. Speaking of beer, that’s mostly what we picked up, empty cans of Olympia, Falstaff, Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
We found prophylactics (unused), baby diapers (used), bed springs, tire irons and broken car jacks, no doubt flung aside by an angry motorist. Once we even found a garbage disposal, which seems redundant. There were broken Thermos bottles and furniture that my Grandpa just couldn’t abide being trashed. We even found a bunch of mail once that must have been discarded by a lazy postman who wanted to take the rest of the day off. It only took one day a year for us FFA members to know all the town secrets because we had looked through its collective trash.
The biggest prizes for my Grandpa were license plates and he had quite a collection. Although he was a little overaggressive and premature in one instance when a driver who couldn’t wait for the next rest stop came out of an orchard after answering nature’s call and found Grandpa unscrewing the license plates on his old and battered Chevy Nova. Talk about road rage!
Grandpa was also constantly on the lookout for road signs and he always claimed to have only taken ones that were laying on the ground, although in some cases he had to lean mighty hard on the post to get them there.
I am constantly reminded of the all good being done by FFA chapters all across the country because I inherited most of my Grandpa’s belongings and if it wasn’t for FFA roadside cleanup, my wife and I would be living in an unfurnished house.