“Farmers. You have to love them to like them. You have to live among them to understand them, and even then you can’t be sure. Even now when I see Dick and Carr out in the yard talking earnestly and Carr picking up some stick to whittle, I expect to learn that someone’s wife has run off. But then I find out they are only discussing whether it’s cheaper to grind your own corncobs with the corn or buy them ground from the feed mill.”
– Rachel Peden
The Land, The People
One of my very earliest memories is this: while riding pedal tractors on the sidewalk with my cousins, we are told to stop what we are doing and get in the car and the truck, all of us. The air was heavy with urgency.
We drive through our little town, the fire department siren blaring, feeling the near-panic of our parents. We were stunned into silence, knowing something big and bad was happening.
We were taken to a hilltop, a distance from the barn that was on fire, and we were firmly instructed not to go wandering, to stay put.
My dad looked as though he might pass out from the heavy concern of it all. He walked toward the firefighters, offering his help. Smoke billowed from the big old barn, and I remember not only the smell, but the sound of popping and cracking as the intense fire consumed the structure.
When we gathered around the dinner table that night, my mom commented on how glad she was that the volunteer firefighters had been able to keep the fire from spreading to other farm buildings on the Fulk farm, adding, “Thank heavens it wasn’t the house.”
Dad said that for a farmer, losing a barn could be more devastating than losing a house, but the most important thing was that no one was hurt. He spent the next several days helping with the cleanup.
Cliff and Jerry Fulk were friends of my parents, and their five children were our pals and playmates. The parents often played cards and caught up while we played hide and seek or a game of our own invention.
Cliff, who not only farmed but was also a livestock hauler, often stopped by our farm, and the two spoke on the phone frequently. My dad relied heavily on him for the buying and selling of livestock.
It’s time to ship about half of those feeder pigs before they get too heavy,” Cliff would say loudly, adding something like, “Why in the heck didn’t you call me sooner?”
My dad, a man of few words, and soft-spoken words at that, would simply nod and say, “Let’s sort ‘em and ship ‘em.”
One day, I remember asking my dad why Cliff was mad at him.
Dad looked puzzled and said, “He isn’t mad. What makes you think that?”
I answered that he always seemed to yell and wave his arms a lot.
“Oh, that’s just his way. Cliff gets excited about lots of things and we wouldn’t want him any other way. You should try playing cards with him!” Dad added with a chuckle.
The years rolled on, and this man my dad called “the old hog hauler” was joined by his son Max in farming and the livestock hauling business. Max saved my dad from certain death when a bull attacked him while loading it to be shipped. Dad really never fully recovered, and died at age 63.
It was then that we saw the other side of Cliff’s emotion, as tears flowed openly. “I am going to miss him,” he said through sobs.
It was our turn to speak those words recently as Cliff was laid to rest. Photographs shared depicted a happy man surrounded by a loving family, growing from the 1950s through to today.
Cliff, quick to smile and give a hug, lived a full life filled with work and play, enjoying coon hunting and cards with friends and family.
Amidst the Fulk family pictures was a photograph of the barn that was lost to fire, and an old memory was summoned. It was a time when neighbors developed deep friendships and pulled together, leaning on one another to share the work, as well as the joy and the sorrow.
It is hard to say goodbye, another link to our oldest generation gone from us, and the memories become our treasure.