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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.
Button weeds, cockleburs, milkweed (sorry, monarchs of the 1950s), and most of all thistles. Many July mornings we were on the hunt. We walked all of our corn, picking weeds and dusting thistles. Unaware of any chemical issues, we carried a metal bucket with pesticide dust and used tin can with holes poked in the top to sprinkle those nasty thistles. Oh, how OSHA would protest today.
My Dad, a very particular farmer, liked a clean field of corn. That meant years of picking weeds and fighting thistles. Actually, his battle with thistles was a bit obsessive. My brother remembers sitting on a special seat on the windrower watching for thistles so the combine didn’t send seeds flying.
In those days, the thistle battle meant walking the corn. When I started I only took two rows. I remember my pride when Dad said I was ready for three rows. I walked in the middle and watched a row on either side. If we saw an especially bad patch, we had to call Dad so he could mark the nearest barbed wire fence and check the patch later in case our chemical didn’t do the job.
It was a miserable job, especially on dewy mornings. We started early to avoid the heat. The corn leaves scratched our faces and mud stuck to our shoes. No matter how hot, we had to wear long sleeves to protect our arms. Bugs thrived and humidity flourished in the rows of corn. Back and forth, back and forth until coffee time. Then back out until dinner, the noon meal on the farm.
Surprisingly, I never minded this job. Whoever was around participated – except Mom who had to manage those coffee breaks and dinner. In my younger years, my sister, Judi, and I often walked in rows next to each other. Nerdy farm girls that we were, we found all sorts of ways to pass the time. One summer we learned all the presidents and vice presidents in a row. We took turns carrying the cheat sheet. Another summer we worked on all the capitals in the United States. We tested each other on spelling words and weird facts. We started on the capitals in South America, but I don’t think we ever mastered those.
When my older siblings moved or had jobs, I walked with Dad and my younger brother and sister. The rule was, “Wait for each other at the end of the row.” I usually walked with Harv. We quickly figured out if we walked fast, we could put our feet up and rest until Dad and Ruth showed up. Slow, steady, and careful was Dad’s motto. Harv wasn’t as interested in academics as Judi was when we walked. We told all the jokes we could think of and laughed about our eccentric relatives.
One hot summer day, we had only one small field to go before finishing up for the summer.
Dad said, “If we finish up this morning, we will clean up and go to Sioux Falls and shop a bit.” Shopping usually included a stop at Zesty’s Drive Inn for ice cream and generally a fun family time.
That same day, John Van’t Land, a neighbor and church friend, stopped by just when we were coming in for our morning break. “Hank,” he said, “it’s way too hot out for those kids. That’s not good for them. You shouldn’t be out there.”
Dad didn’t say much, but we all quickly assured John that we were fine. We did not want anything to jeopardize our family outing.
When I look back on this farm job, I think what I appreciated most is that we did this together. No one person got “out of it” and Dad was right there walking with us. Sometimes he came over to help when a stubborn weed just wouldn’t come up. He let us know he appreciated our hard work.
We each had a little yellow livestock notebook where we recorded our hours. At the end of the summer, Dad would tell us it was time to”settle up.” No great financial gain, but the thought was worthy. I think my rate was a quarter an hour. What mattered is that he valued us and our contribution.
When it was hot or muddy, he got hot and muddy too. He never sent us out alone. He knew our pain and joined in. I loved him for that.
This may be a stretch symbolically, but I love Jesus more because he joined us on earth. His feet got dirty and hurt. He grew tired and wanted to rest. He grieved and felt left out. And he enjoyed life with his friends. Jesus still does not send us out alone. He goes with us and I love him for that.