Twice a year readers who write, telephone or send drone aircraft to my office take over this space to air their gripes, grievances and gratitude. As in the past, gracious letters outnumber the ones soaked in jalapeno sauce. Unlike the past, however, this year’s peppery correspondence contains record levels of heat.
A mid-May email from “Lyle” in Indiana (on a column that dissected the global economy) is typical: “The column was quite literally a mess … Nothing about this (topic) makes any sense unless we assume you were having a hard time putting a column together so you just cleaned out the bottom of the file drawer and threw everything in.”
That degree of warmth arrived early and often in the past six months.
A Jan. 20 email from “Kevin” began with a good basting: “I really do not know why I read your articles … The last rant you put together brings to mind one word: hypocrite.”
An April column that included a comparison to the Chicago Cubs’ century of World Series futility brought a couple of hard swats from an Illinoisan equally frustrated with me and the Cubs.
“Do you ever write a column that is positive, constructive and helpful to operating farmers and crop share landlords? And what do the hapless Cubs have to do with (it)?” he continued. “Nothing. So … you now have so little to write about that you think ridiculing the Cubs is a great idea for a column. Pathetic — both you and the Cubs.”
A week later a column that defended farm bill spending on food assistance, mainly SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, drew hot lead from every direction. The kinder shots kept their bursts short and aim above the belt.
“SNAP as configured is just a total political scam so both sides can get themselves re-elected,” offered “Robert” in April 28 email. “I am reminded of the (Depression-era) WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). Want welfare? Work for it.”
A mid-March column that praised outgoing U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk even drew fire: “You are far too good a writer to have been bamboozled by government $ numbers,” wrote “Jon” from Minnesota. “It’s spring; time to let the government snow job melt and see what’s really underneath … Keep looking.”
More surprising was a well-composed, handwritten letter that arrived in mid-May, to take me to the woodshed on a column that fondly and (I thought) humorously looked back on my father’s temperamental Oliver corn planter.
“You were unfair describing (your dad’s) Oliver corn planter,” wrote “Darrel” from north central Wisconsin. “My 540 Oliver of the 1950s era was the most modern planter made.”
Huh? Fifty years ago I often wondered if there was one fully-functional Oliver planter anywhere in the world. Turns out there was — in Wisconsin.
Most of the year’s correspondence, however, leaned more toward kindness than kindling. The corn planter column brought this reply from “Larry” who sends an email or so every year: “I’m takin’ the high road here and assuming you father didn’t hold on to the Oliver planter to make sure you chose another career path.”
One reader, “Otto” from, well, he didn’t say, emailed to note that “I find it interesting to have your frank and often critical column published in our local farming-related publication.”
Another reader, “Angelica” in Wisconsin, emailed in late March to “let you know how much I appreciate your skills as a captivating writer, your humor and your choices of subject.”
You reckon Angelica would take a short visit with “Darrell,” just up the road from her, to check out a 540 Oliver planter for me? If she does, you’ll read about it here first. Until then, keep the letters, emails and occasional black helicopter coming.