By JUDITH SUTHERLAND
Farm and Dairy columnist
In 1950, my dad graduated from high school and welcomed a young man who had just moved to this area. Both were setting sights toward crop farming and dairy farming. In the ensuing years, both would start young families while building successful, sustainable Holstein herds.
While my dad was a more serious sort, Matt Banks was a jovial soul who loved to laugh. And he loved to make others laugh.
When our families got together, which was often, the kids played endlessly while the adults enjoyed a break from the grind of dairy farming. Always, it seemed, Matt was telling jokes and often seemed more like one of the kids than one of the adults.
In recent years, sitting on the front porch with Matt, I told him I felt like we were family, that we all had grown up together. He raised his hand as if to stop me and said, “Now, wait a minute. That’s not quite right … ”
I looked a bit puzzled and Matt said, “You all grew up together, that part is true. Me, I’m still working on that growing up stuff!” Considering at that moment, Matt was dressed in his Hee-Haw bib overalls and the silliest straw hat I had ever seen, I was not in any real position to argue with him.
Matt laughed that contagious laugh if ever there was one, and the stories went on from there.
I not only was lucky enough to have grown up a member of the gang who got to spend time at Matt and Shirley’s — playing all sort of made-up games with the Banks, Moffett and Young kids while the adults played cards — but in more recent years, my kids were blessed in this way too.
My son remembers Matt playing checkers with him, my daughter remembers Matt bringing her little gifts from his travels, and they both had so much fun learning to swim in Matt and Shirley’s pool, along with dozens of other kids who were welcomed there, including many foster children cared for over the years.
When we had a house fire, the one thing Matt felt the worst about is my kids lost all of their toys, a true sign of what a kid at heart he still was.
Matt loved with a big heart, and the umbrella of “family” grew and grew and grew, as he loved without reservation, without judgment and without favoritism.
Spend an hour visiting with Matt, and it was clear he saw the good in everyone. Spend a minute with Matt, and your day was better. You could be in the worst possible mood and Matt would draw you in with one of his silly stories, and just when he had you laughing, reeling you in, setting that bad mood aside, Matt would inexplicably nod off to sleep, as though his job were done.
It is so hard to say goodbye to someone so special, but I say this with conviction: my life is better for having known him. This proved to be a universal thought at Matt’s memorial service last Sunday in his family’s church.
When I grow up, I want to be that ageless, joyful, silly and sweet soul Matt shared so freely with everyone lucky enough to know him. When a friend offered her condolences to me, knowing how highly I thought of Matt, I replied, “I am trying to envision my dad and Matt together in the great beyond, once again finding joy in hard work.”
She thought for a minute and then said, “I bet they are … but I would bet Matt is cracking jokes while your dad is doing all the work!”
Travel lightly, Matthew. You will be missed.