in praise of farm families
The farms of southern Iowa not only give us some of the finest crops and livestock of the Heartland, they also nurture families and friendships across generations. I felt that soul-deep this morning as I read and responded to a note from my friend Jeanette, telling me her beloved big brother Tom had passed. She asked that I tell Mom, which I will. And, when I do, even though we’ve known this moment was coming, my words will be met with a sharp intake of breath and tears I can hear but not see.
For it was my mama–a friend since childhood of Tom and Jeanette’s mom Hazel and dad Wayne–who diapered Tom on the day he was born. Who took care of the new mother as she recovered from childbirth And who, when their two young husbands were called to fight in WWII, shared a small home and a long wait with Mrs. Demry & Son. The two couples would remain friends forever, even after the Demrys were no longer a couple. At that point, my folks chose not to choose, enjoying more separate but stellar times with Hazel, Wayne and their respective new partners.
My favorite memory of Tom, however, was shared long-distance by my sister Marilyn the evening of my folks’ farm auction. If you grew up in the midwest, you know these events are part sale, part social gathering and all country. Tom, following in his dad’s footsteps–or would that be voiceworks?–was the auctioneer. Before the first tractor came up for bid, he nodded at Dad and said something like this: “Now, folks, I have known this man my entire life. And here’s what I know about him: If he says it’ll run, it will. If he says it won’t, it won’t. Whatever he tells you is true.” When Dad passed several years later, we kids agreed that Tom’s words were the highest praise a man like our father could hear, and the perfect epitaph for a life spent well.
So, now I’m thinking about another life spent well. Tom, it is my fervent hope that you were met at Heaven’s Gates by my dad, your folks, and the generations of Iowegians who came before you and loved your ever-present smile. I hope there was a battered hayrack filled with farm goods, black coffee brewing at some small shelter on the side, a pitch game planned for later and a request to have you call the sale.
“Okay, boys, now do I hear a twenty, a twenty, a twenty…?”
Photo: 1944. Carl and Arlene Thompson and baby boy Gary; Hazel and Wayne Demry and baby boy Tom.