Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a farmer like Dad. This might explain why I hated school.    
    It didn’t begin that way. My academic career was launched in a one-room country schoolhouse in the middle of the prairie. I was essentially a male version of Laura Ingalls Wilder.     
    Our country school felt like one big family. The older kids actually looked out for the younger ones.    
    For instance, there was a piece of playground equipment called the giant strikes. A tall steel pipe had been cemented into the ground; hanging from a rotating hub atop of the pipe were a set of chains that had handles at the bottom. The handles were at the perfect height to clunk unsuspecting kids on the noggin.    
    Being a puny little kid, I was unable to reach the handles of the giant strikes. I was watching enviously as the bigger kids flew in circles around the giant strikes when Bonnie, a lanky seventh grader, saw me.
    “Here, let me help you,” she said.    
    Bonnie lifted me up, and I grabbed a handle. She then gave me a powerful push. I soared high off the ground, parallel to the earth, my arms straining at their sockets as I screamed at the top of my lungs. It was wonderful.    
    Sadly, our country school was shuttered at the end of first grade. I was then sentenced to attend town school.    
    Town school taught me several new things right away.    
    I learned we were poor. I learned that cow manure stinks, and some kids are bullies. Above all, I learned to hate school.    
    I felt like a guy who had been falsely imprisoned. After all, I reasoned, how much does a farmer really need to know? Enough English to read a feed sack and enough math to calculate bushels per acre is all I reckoned I’d need. I told my parents I’d have more than enough education by the end of second grade, but they insisted I attend classes until I completed high school.   
    A breakthrough came in eighth grade, when I was given a packet that described the classes that were available in high school. Hidden deep within the packet were the bare minimum requirements for graduating from high school.
    I was struck by an epiphany. If I doubled up on English one year and took all of the other required courses, I could graduate in three short years. Think of it. A whole extra year with which I could pursue my dream of farming while my stolid classmates squandered precious time in stifling classrooms.
    I felt like a prisoner who had discovered a secret tunnel system beneath the jail.
    Against the advice of my parents and school authorities, I put my plan into effect. And it almost worked. It would have worked if Mrs. Hoffelt hadn’t flunked me in her crafts class.    
    Crafts was regarded as a gimme course. You smushed some clay and called it art; you splashed some paint and called it art. Anyone could do it.   
    But Mrs. Hoffelt had a major hang-up. It seems that in order to receive a passing grade in crafts, you had to actually attend the class.    
    I went to a few of Mrs. Hoffelt’s classes. But viewed through the lens of my farming ambitions, I could see fewer things that were a bigger waste of time than sitting through crafts class.    
    My buddy Steve and I began to skip crafts class every day. We used the hour allotted for crafts to walk the block from our school to the house where Steve’s grandmother lived.
    Gramma appeared to be older than Moses and was as crusty as stale French bread. Instead of working with clay and macramé, Steve and I played euchre with Gramma and her octogenarian boyfriend.    
    During our many pleasant hours of euchre, Gramma would chain smoke unfiltered Camels, drink cheap beer and belittle her befuddled boyfriend for his dunderheaded bidding. I really liked Gramma.    
Skipping crafts to play cards with Gramma was more than just a way to escape the classroom; it as an opportunity to learn more about our senior citizens. Honing my euchre skills was simply an added bonus.
    You might think that Mrs. Hoffelt would have taken this into consideration, but no. Despite my best arguments, she gave me an “F” for crafts.
    A lump formed in my throat on a long-ago May morning when I joined my classmates on the stage as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance.” The lump wasn’t just due to nostalgia and pride.
    It was also because I had blown an entire extra semester going to school.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.