A. V. Walters
Our farm foreman is a hard-working man. I admire that, but I know from my own life that there has to be more. Sometimes I think there’s a bitter edge to his efforts. He is not a stupid man, but he sometimes takes obvious pride in backwards ways. When I first moved in, Elmer instructed him to seal the new tile floor in my kitchen. To me, work is work but I guess Don thought sealing the grout on a new tile floor was not proper ‘farm’ work. He grumbled.
He also wore his grubby farm boots while doing the job. And he applied sealer over his own footprints—making them a semi-permanent part of my interior. I left it the way it was for over a year—contemplating the meaning of footprint décor. Elmer saw it and shook his head. Guests noted it. Finally I took some ammonia and Elmer’s floor-scrubbing machine and stripped and resealed the floor. So, it’s not lost on me that with Don, you need to be careful what you ask for—you might just get it. It seems Don thinks that people spend too much time on unnecessary, “fancy” extras (like sealing grout.) If you were to send him to pick up materials to do finish carpentry, he’d come back with a pile of 2x4s.
Still, if there’s a problem, this guy is there. When the water went out last week and one problem cascaded into another, Elmer and Don were out there up to their ankles in it. And he knows the rhythms of the farm and the season. Regardless of what project is cooking, Don knows as well as Elmer what needs to be done generally—that we need to be cognizant of the danger of frost till mid-May, even when they can plant earlier in town, a scant 10 miles away; and that you need to check the fences in the slow times, early in the winter, before the lambs find the little gaps. (I’ve spent some time chasing escaped lambs and sheep—the fence checking is a really good idea.) You don’t always find that level of conscientiousness in hired hands.
I mentioned that to Elmer and he nodded. He and Don are friends since their teen years when they sheared sheep together. “Yup, Don is a straight shooter, alright and a damn good farmer.” Then, it was as though a cloud passed over his face, and he looked away.
“Elmer? You okay?”
“Yeah,” He shrugged
I didn’t understand what had just happened, and, in my usual way, I couldn’t help but press further, “Well, Elmer, I figure you’re a damn good farmer, too.”
He paused, looked down and then at me, “Well, I used to be.”
I nodded, “Well, you are getting on now, I guess you get to relax some.”
“It’s not that,” he continued, “I was a good farmer and took care of business. It was always something, you know—fences, chickens, minding the sheep. Then my wife got sick.” He shook his head, “I was waiting for her to get better. There were treatments and some adjustments in our lives. I didn’t know what was really going on. I should have been there but there was always something on the farm. By the time I understood how serious it was I’d lost a lot of time, you know, with her.”
I didn’t know how to respond. He had tears in his eyes.
“When she died I was a real mess. All I could think was that there she’d been, sick and sometimes alone—and I’d been off somewhere, tending to the farm. I lost that time. I’ve still got my girls and grandkids. I have friends. Hell, I’ve lived on this farm my whole life, I know everybody around here and that’s what’s important. I realized it after she died and I decided to change what comes first. It’s my kids and grandkids. And it’s people. From then on I was proud to be a good-enough farmer.” He nodded and looked up at me, “You have a good day now.” And he was on his way, down the drive.