I would be remiss to admit that I didn't miss life on the farm. After my college graduation and wedding in summer 2011, I moved to Houghton to start a life with my husband, who is currently a student at Michigan Technological University.
Although Houghton offers picturesque views and great hiking trails, for me, nothing compares to the smell of fresh cut hay, a sunrise over my family's farm or the sound of our grain dryer humming me to sleep on a crisp fall night.
By now you know, I am a transplant Yooper. I grew up on my family's 350-cow dairy farm in a small rural community in southeastern Wisconsin. I was active in 4-H, FFA and Junior Holstein, all of which taught me responsibility, effective communication and leadership.
I'm proud of my roots because I firmly believe that everything I needed to learn I learned on the farm. I think I can safely say I have taught my family a few lessons, too.
Perhaps my brother's favorite story, one he shared with the masses during our wedding reception, is from my second official tractor driving experience at age 19.
Now I know that most farm kids grow up driving tractors from field to field and milking cows, but my interest was always in the calves, something that was encouraged by my caring and overly protective dad and grandpa. Before getting ready for school each morning, it was my job to feed grain and water to the calves. I also took over as assistant calf feeder when my family was attending my brother's sporting events across the state.
So one summer afternoon when my family was desperate for tractor drivers, I volunteered to step in, just until my younger brother and his friends could take my place at 3:30 when he was done with school.
At first, my task was simple -drive the tractor in a single gear to the field directly behind my family's house and bring the load to my dad at the bunker. I was going slow and steady, but doing exactly what my family needed, that is, until it was time to change fields.
Keep in mind, until this day, I had never driven any of our tractors on the road. My first experience driving a tractor a few years earlier was also in the field only. My dad gave me a five minute run-down on how to switch gears while maneuvering down the road and left me alone in the tractor.
I stared nervously at the wheel and began my journey down the road to our field, a half mile away, just before school let out for the day. I started out slowly and prepared to switch gears, but instead killed it, so I attempted again. I tried again and again, failing and wishing my dad had stayed with me on my first solo journey to the field. I became increasingly embarrassed as cars began passing me down my road and was moved to tears when my brother's friends honked as they passed, laughing at the farm girl stranded on the roadside.
Apparently my brother's friends felt bad for me and my brother called to tell me he was on his way to help.
After his call, I wiped away my tears and proudly moved to the buddy seat while I waited for my brother to arrive. My brother has always been someone I look up to (not only because he's taller), and on that day, I gained a new level of respect for him. He patiently drove the tractor to the field with me in the buddy seat and explained what I was doing wrong.
Despite my brother's best efforts to teach me hands-on how to drive a tractor, it was my last time behind the wheel of any tractors in my family's John Deere tractor fleet.
That day, my family learned a valuable lesson. Ashley doesn't belong behind the wheel of a tractor - not now and not ever.
Ashley Curtis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.