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With every new vineyard going up on the family farm, retirement is slipping further from view.

Nearing the end of my 60th year, I’m noticing that a lot of friends and acquaintances around my age have either retired or are counting down the days. Meanwhile, I’m fixing things so that I can take a retirement trip and never leave the farm.

Not that I won’t stop punching the proverbial clock and tap into the Social Security and retirement nest egg. But visions of Florida winter condos and weekday golfing are impossible to see.

I’ll be walking around in the grass, all right. Behind a lawn mower.

While we were raising three daughters in Winterville, North Carolina, I recall having thoughts of giving up the horticultural aspects of our existence there.

On the nearly 1-acre lot we maintained, there were tall pine trees that dropped needles nearly all year long. We raked them into little piles around said trees. A lot.

The previous owners had covered two sides of the house with azaleas. They were the big variety that threaten to come through the windows.

There was a flower garden in one corner of the yard, pampas grass that had to be whacked back each fall, and I still have nightmares about the wisteria (I called it “hysteria”) vines.

The only landscaping feature around that house that did not fight back was the centipede grass. The stuff could go three weeks between cuttings without upsetting the neighbors. One needs a hay baler and a white flag to pull that off in East Tennessee.

Speaking of hay balers, we used to have a friend down the road from our family farm in Tennessee who would cut and bale our hay. Little by little, however, my siblings and I have built houses until now we pretty much mow the entire place.

That was my father’s retirement activity — mowing. Now the only areas that are not mowed by my brother and brothers-in-law are where we’ve started vineyards. Something else for us to do in retirement.

My brother, Jeff, started the first vineyard, and we’re three years into the winemaking. This year, we’ve set poles for 100 additional vines, which are on order.

Knowing that I might have, at best, 15 or 20 more good years of physical labor left in me, there are thoughts about who might be in line to assume the family farming and mowing activities.

The daughters have never expressed much interest in working up a sweat, much less mowing and maintaining a vineyard. Jeff is 10 years younger than me, so I’m counting on his having that many more good years of hard labor.

Not long after Jeff’s vines began producing grapes, he started a job with duties focused primarily in Florida. His work requires much travel throughout the Sunshine State and usually brings him home to Tennessee about every third week.

I cover for him on the mowing, and at times with the vineyard duties, while he’s down south dodging alligators.

Grapes require a good bit of spraying and pruning and such.

I will say that when my brother comes home between stretches of working in Florida, he looks very tanned and rested. And he usually lights into getting things done around the farm.

If I ever find out he’s down there weekday golfing and hanging out by the condo pool, I’m going to hide his pruning shears.

Contact Mark Rutledge at