To My Father, the Farmer, with Love

 

(I wrote this as a gift for Father’s Day when I was about 30. My dad had been diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia several years earlier, and he was doing poorly at the time. He died a year and a half later. I didn’t edit or revise it, so just take it as it was written by a young woman who needed her dad to know how much she loved him, but couldn’t talk about that stuff in person.)

He always wore irrigating boots. The kind that go clear up, right to your belt and snap on—rubber legs. Essential for slogging through wet barley, dragging canvas dams behind, and a shovel balanced casually on his shoulder with the practiced air of a real pro. When it’s your water turn, you push that stream. Day and night and night and day. Even if it is Sunday. The Lord knows how quickly alfalfa can wither with that sickly, yellow pale.

Lambs have priority over church, too. They always come one right after another on a snow-screaming night in March. Sometimes, and it’s such a clever trick, he’d dress a hungry orphan in a stillborn’s skin and urge it on the unsuspecting ewe. She’d sniff that wool that smelled of herself, and let the unrelated mouth drink of her aching abundance, forming a bond that endured long after the extra coat had stiffened and been discarded.

He knew all the tricks! How to carve a whistle from a green willow branch. Just the knack for making the old baler spit them out—chunka—chunka–chunka. How to make Mama laugh with exasperation and delight at the same time.

Some things I learned. Pulling milk from a cow with your two hands so fast that the foam grew high enough to slide over the edge of the bucket. I got to where I could stack hay on a wagon so it would ride securely even when my crazy little brother drove the tractor. But I never learned to make fudge like Mama told me about. The surprise when he whipped it up and wrote her name across the top with the drippings off the spoon.

He would walk into the milk barn, and stop and gaze; I was in a hurry, and he was in the way. But then he’d walk down to, say, Jewel’s stall, and touch her Guernsey hip, and watch her ribs move in and out, and tell me that she wasn’t doing well. And I’d say, yes, her milk was down, but I thought it was because we milked late that morning…And he would take her temperature, and give her a shot, and she’d be perking in a day or two, and I’d still be wondering and shaking my heard.

He could walk up in the fields and kick the dirt and pick up a handful, and sniff the air, and listen to the wind and know that this week, and not a day later, he’d better plant. And the brown always turned green right on schedule. I think sometimes the soil produced in response to his love—gut deep emotion.

February is our month. Our birthdays frame one week, thirty years apart. He always got chocolate-covered orange jelly sticks, and buckskin gloves, and an assortment of really sincere cards drawn on typing paper, and colored with crayons—reeking with love. When I was nine years old, he gave me a shimmering necklace of pink glass beads that changed to lavender when you turned them just so in the light. It was so wonderful and extravagant. I didn’t even have anything to wear that matched. So, Mama had her sister make me a dress—pure luxury.

Once he confided to me his regret at not having taken the opportunity after The War of not going to college with the G.I. money.

“I could have been something more than just a farmer.”

Just a farmer! He’s not “just a farmer.” He’s an instinctive, born-to-the-soil, man of the earth. He’s the finest, purest, craftsman I know. I have learned how to change sprinkler pipes, and I can milk cows for hours on end. I’ve helped pull calves from laboring heifers, and hauled hay bales to the brink of heat stroke; all of these are merely physical functions.

Only he hears the sound of the ongoing theme. To me, it was a matter of calendar; to him it is the blending of soul to soul. All in nature is spiritual, and his being is fine-tuned to that frequency. He is a farmer, oh, yes! And I’m so proud to be that farmer’s daughter.

There are 5 comments.

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  1. Patrick McClure Coolidge
    Patrick McClure
    @Patrickb63

    Beautiful. A daughter’s love shines through so brightly. You and he were both blessed.

    • #1
  2. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Lovely remembrance there. Thank you. 

    • #2
  3. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Cow Girl: I think sometimes the soil produced in response to his love—gut deep emotion.

    I am sure this is at least partly true. The way you describe it, I can feel the connection between them.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Your love, admiration, and respect for him come shining through. You’ve touched my heart in sharing the story, @cowgirl. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    You have written a beautiful tribute to your father.  And, one that could have been written about my uncle, who was a dairy farmer in Pennsylvania.  

    “Just a farmer! He’s not ‘just a farmer.'”  You mean those who are experts in animal husbandry, are carpenters, are architects, are builders, are skilled in any type of farm machine and tool maintenance and repair, understand finance and economics, and who deeply understand their earth and soil to a degree unfathomed by most of us.  (Did I leave out anything?)  Can anyone come up with just one non-farmer who can do those things?

    Cow Girl: He could walk up in the fields and kick the dirt and pick up a handful, and sniff the air, and listen to the wind and know that this week, and not a day later, he’d better plant. And the brown always turned green right on schedule. I think sometimes the soil produced in response to his love—gut deep emotion.

    I remember a few occasions we would want to go somewhere – several weeks out – and my uncle would say after a few moments thought, No, that’s date we’re planting ____, or No, that’s the date for the first harvest of ____.  

    “Just a farmer.”  No, my friends.

    • #5

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