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Writing on these Sundays in July, I decided to go back to my childhood on an Iowa farm and all the treasures I learned from my parents. 

On early summer days, my dad often took the tractor and cultivator out to rid the corn of weeds. The metal cultivator with pointed teeth followed the tractor, turning up the dirt and weeds. This was long before no-till and sophisticated weed killers. My dad took his coffee break out in the field because the job could take all day and driving the tractor back to the yard was inefficient. Mom often asked me to bring coffee and a snack out to Dad since laundry, gardening, cooking, and taking care of my little sister and brother filled her day. 

I loved this job. The fresh air blew through my hair and I loved the smell of overturned dirt. I got a snack too so that was a plus, but what I loved most was the one-on-one time with my dad. Growing up in a family with six children, I seldom got Dad all to myself. We talked about the weather, the birds, and life in general.

One day in early June especially stands out. Even though the corn was shorter than me, Dad warned, “Stay at the end and wave. Don’t walk in the rows. I might not see you. I will stop and you will be safe.” That is just what happened.

I heard the Farmall 500 and I could see Dad perched on the tractor seat. When he saw me, he waved and cut the motor. The big red tractor grumbled to a stop and Dad stepped off onto the ground. He took off his green Farm Bureau cap, shook the dust out, and sat in the shade of the big tractor wheel. We opened the lunch bucket and found a thermos of coffee, a bologna and cheese sandwich, and two cookies. I knew one of the cookies was for me. Dad poured black coffee into the top of the thermos.

He took a swallow and gazed across the field. “Isn’t that the most beautiful sight?” he asked. His face shone with pride and I could see his joy that the rows were straight and the cultivator was sending the weeds to no man’s land. 

“I don’t need to be an artist,” he continued. “I have art right here. There is nothing prettier than a new field of corn.” Even as a small child, I knew my dad felt he was doing what he was called to do. He loved being a farmer and he loved keeping the corn clean and seeing the rows straight and sturdy. Right then I believed bringing coffee to him helped and I felt proud too. 

Sometimes I heard my mom say, “Hank could have been anything, even a teacher or preacher.” She wasn’t convinced farming used all his abilities. When Dad graduated from 8th grade, his dad asked him if he wanted to be a preacher. He declined and that was it. My grandpa said education wasn’t necessary. Dad, however, never looked back. He loved the farm. 

As an adult, I often envied dad’s sure commitment to his life’s work. I was never quite as sure about my own. I seemed to second guess myself often. Was I a teacher because that was the only job I saw women doing besides homemaking and nursing? Was I really patient enough, smart enough, creative enough? Was I equipping students in the best way possible?

Dad never worried about being enough. He looked outward as if his occupation was a gift. More than anything he was grateful for his life’s work. He truly lived Philippians 4:11: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I am still working on that verse. 

I wish I could ask Dad one more time just how he managed to love farming so much. Farms have no shortage of stinky manure, ornery hogs, sick cattle, and scorching weeks of drought. Income was risky and budgeting inconsistent. but Dad looked at life as a big picture. Dad believed things would all work out and he taught me to look at one’s occupation as a gift. 

Maybe a shy smile, a thank you note, and an equation mastered were my straight rows without weeds.  I have a harder time seeing work as a gift, but remembering the look on his face as we sat beside the tractor often helped me muddle through one more day of teaching and treasure the small things.

Even now, as a retired woman in a small town, I grumble about being invisible and slightly ignored. I miss the hectic days of needy students and challenging children.

Then I look at a pot of flowers where the colors come together just right and my loaf of sourdough bread rises just like it should. I hug a grandchild and send a text to another one taking a big test. And I remember that farmer on his coffee break. 

header photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, eight grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thank you. For this old father, a surprise birthday card.

    • Joyce and Wes Kiel says:

      You triggered Wes’ memory of his bringing coffee to his dad out in the field in a mason jar wrapped in newspaper with a rope around the neck because it was too hot to carry.

      Your description of your memory brought us with you. Thank you.

  • Verlyn De Wit says:

    I hadn’t thought about coffee in the field for a long time! Thanks

  • Mary D says:

    Thank you! You brought back a wonderful memory I had completely forgotten.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Kinda like driving the 19 miles from Roseland on the South Side to Wrigley Field on July 4 or Labour Day Monday for a double-header with my dad. No Dan Ryan Expressway then. The ride took about an hour each way, alone with Dad in the ’52 green Chevy sedan and in the middle of the drives alone with Dad among 40,000 loyal and usually beleauered Cub fans. Thanks much for the lovely memory.

  • Marlyn Visser says:

    I dare wager the “lunch bucket” was a recycled Karo Syrup one gallon container. Once again confirming a rural principle; “You can remove the farmer from the farm however; you cannot remove the farm from a farmer.

  • David Schelhaas says:

    Thank you, Helen. What a lovely memory. My “farm-girl” wife has similar sweet memories of bringing lunch to her dad.

  • Glenda Buteyn says:

    I too was gifted with a “ Farmer Dad” who shared his words of wisdom with me as I followed him everywhere. And though he was a farmer through and through he told us all to “ go” and find our own way in the world. We did, but those rows of corn never leave our hearts.

  • Keith Vander Pol says:

    “You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.” Your story is my lived experience. What a gift we were given. Thank you!

  • Pettinga Jayne says:

    I hadn’t planned to take the trip this morning. But I am so grateful for your post which sent me down my own “memory lanes” of moments with my father.

  • Ron Polinder says:

    This was luscious, much like that fresh sandwich and your cookie. So many of us, thousands, growing up on family farms, a privilege disappearing from the American landscape. Yes, the routine and hard work, but it brings thanksgiving to my heart this Sabbath morning. Taste and see that the Lord is good to have called our Dad’s and Mom’s to the farm.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks for bringing this long-ago farm boy back to the fields and to my dad with lunch and coffee whose breeze-blown scent made me want to join Dad on such a special outdoor picnic.

  • Carol says:

    You certainly brought back special memories of taking “coffee time” out to the field.

  • Roger Bruggink says:

    I grew up in Wisconsin and spent many days on Grandpa Bruggink’s farm, among them hoeing in the corn fields. Thanks for bringing back this memory.

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