Saturday, September 12, 2009
A Man in His Element
What an incredible Labor Day weekend! We spent three days at my father and step-mother’s farm along with a great many cousins, aunts and friends.
It is a beautiful place—rolling hills, green pastures and vast sky. The farm is quiet and easy.
The front porch greets you. The cushions on the rocking chairs are well-worn, and there are extra lawn chairs in the garage. In the early mornings, steam rises from the many unmatched coffee cups. The odor of manure, hay, must and dirt tingle in your nostrils; you inhale other scents too—the sweat of horses, saddle leather, clean air and hot sunshine. The pastures bustle with machinery: tractors, hay mowers and ATVs. The barn is filled with the workings of horses: saddles, bridles, reins, but mostly the farm is alive with people.
I am drawn to this little farm. I love it most because of my family; the people who gather there create a wild and friendly clamor.
We arrived on Friday to hard, loving hugs. The rest of the evening was filled with eating, learning, riding and laughing. We stayed up late—my daughters slept in the loft of the barn with the horses, in all their smelly glory, below them. My cousin decided it would be fun to scare these girls in their lofty habitat and donned a hideous rubber mask. He tried to move stealthily through the yard to the barn, but was ambushed by all the younger kids.
Later we went to bed and my father and step-mother were talking with all the family still congregated on the front porch. Suddenly there was silence. All you could hear was the whir of the ceiling fan and the faint chirp of the crickets and insects. Steve laughed and said, “The king and queen must have gone to bed.”
We witnessed this truth all weekend. My father and step-mother’s presence permeated every place on the farm. Steve and I discussed and contemplated this truth. What do you do to become so respected and so loved and so honored?
Several situations occurred during the weekend that fleshed out the characteristics that make my dad and his wife the king and queen.
On Saturday morning Johnny shoed the horses. He wore smooth leather leggings with pockets for the tools of his trade; his voice was low, but firm. The clang of the hammer on the anvil and the shoes pierced the din. Bo, my father’s oldest horse, stood placidly allowing the farrier to clip and file his worn hooves. Dad held his lead rope and rubbed his forehead while Johnny worked. Johnny and my dad worked easily together; there was an element of trust and respect between them.
Near the barn, on its side, was the enormous tin can—the roaster that held the spit. You could hear the grating noise of the shovel against the charcoal in the roaster (this year goat was on the spit). Fathers’ voices shouted out giving instruction or correction to all the rambunctious little boys. You could hear the pop of the tabs when someone opened a can to quench their thirst. And above it all was laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
Everyone was working on a task—doing something to be ready for the crowd due to arrive later in the day; the pace was easy and slow, not lazy. No, there was way too much work for there to be laziness. Everyone (especially my dad and step-mother) worked hard right up until it was time to eat.
I was in the kitchen and Dad came in shaking his head, “Those boys are lost; I have to go help.” I was confused at first. The little boys were lost? My heart jerked; seventy acres was a lot of ground to cover. Then I realized Dad was referring to my cousins—boys in their forties. The goats were not rotating on the spit correctly. Thirty minutes later, Dad had the spit turning.
The little boys were riding horses in the round pen. Being little boys they were showing off and attempting to do far more than they were capable of (sounds like the big boys too). They were giving many jumbled signals to their mounts, Mandy and Bo. The poor horses were getting quite confused. At one point the horses stood in the pen and would not move. Dad grabbed the horses’ halters so he could talk to the boys—explaining riding rules once again. Then Dad spoke to the horses and swatted them on their flanks to move them along. The boys, however, were too antsy and excited to do what they had just been told.
Dad tolerated this for only a little while. Then he spoke, “You’re done. Time to get off. Bring them in.” The boys looked at him and for a split second they considered arguing. They quickly changed their minds; my father’s tone brooked no argument.
I was near the round pen watching my daughters learn to ride when another problem happened.
My younger brother pulled up on an ATV and informed Dad that there was a situation in the lower field.
The boys (the forty year old ones) were in the bottom field raking and bailing hay, and something had happened to the tracker and the bailer. Dad assessed the situation in the round pen and said, “I have to go see what is going on.” He hopped on an ATV and rode to the lower field. Later he returned; the situation was under control.
On our last night on the farm we watched the most incredible fireworks display. Then a corn-hole tournament commenced with lots of raucous laughter, gibing and bragging. My dad was sitting on a picnic table bench watching everyone. My step-mother came to him and sat in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his chin in her shoulder. This man with his rough,calloused hands and often silent demeanor was so gentle and affectionate towards her. Romantic in the truest sense of the word. There was a visible intimacy born of shared experiences and life done together—side by side for over thirty years.
Obviously I watched my Dad a great deal this past weekend—he is attuned to a rhythm and cadence of a life that is almost disappearing. He isn’t quite a cowboy even though he wears a hat to keep the sun off his tender ears, he isn’t quite a farmer because he doesn’t have a yearly crop to sell at market, he isn’t quite a lawman (like Wyatt Earp—his favorite), but his word is law.
My dad would be the very first to tell you he is not perfect.
He is, however, a man in his element.
Comfortable in his skin.
At home in himself.
At peace with who he is.