A community watches a child grow


Flipping through an old photo album the other day, I came across a picture of my son, dressed to the hilt as a little redneck cowboy if ever there was one. He was about 5 years old, and the orneriness in those big blue eyes still jumps right off the page.

Spotting that picture prompted a vivid memory from one autumn afternoon. I had put little Caroline down for a nap, I was working on my column, and Cort was playing on our brand new deck.

I could see Cort through the window, and once in awhile would hear him talking to our sweet dog, Murphy, who was serving as baby sitter while I finished up my work.

I noticed that Cort had turned the dog food dish over and was smashing the kibble with his new cowboy boots. I stepped out on the deck and said, “Cort, don’t do that. It’s wasteful and you are making a mess.” He sweetly said, “OK, Mommy,” and I figured the problem was solved.

In no time, I realized he was doing the very same thing again. This time, with more force in my voice, I went back out and said, “Cort! I told you not to do that!”

He looked up with great dismay in those expressive blue eyes. He said, “I KNOW, Mom! But I think you are going to have to explain it to my BOOTS!”

Turns out those new cowboy boots, combined with a new deck to play on, simply had a mind of their own!

Today, that little boy is celebrating his 17th birthday.

Giving thanks. Cort has always been a thankful child, which is a joyful blessing for a parent. My friend Jody still remembers spending an evening with us when Cort was quite small, and his prayer before supper was, “Dear God, thank you for our food – and even for our water.”

My father had struck a chord with Cort that summer as we suffered through one of the worst droughts in recent memory. For an entire week, Cort offered to pass up his bath. “If I don’t use up that water, maybe Ni-Ni’s corn will grow,” he offered. Ah, the sacrifices he was willing to make!

I love being 5!’‘ In one of my earlier columns, clipped and placed in Cort’s scrapbook, I wrote of Cort’s “latest prayer” which said, “Dear God, could you pleeeease bring the lightning bugs back? And thank you for my birthday and letting me be 5… I love being 5! And thank you for toasted cheese and marshmallows and birthday cake and my warm bed and water.”

At the ripe old age of 5, he tried to prepare me for the fact that his future plans included going on lots of expeditions to save the dinosaurs, softening the announcement with, “but I’ll sure miss ya, Mom!”

Watch him grow. When I look back on moments I have shared with Farm and Dairy readers, I realize that you all have watched my children grow up right along with us. You have shared in the grins and the heartbreak, and your kindness and caring has meant so much.

So, on this 17th birthday, it only seemed fitting to celebrate this day with all of you, our large extended family.

Cort continues to fight through the extreme fatigue and pain of Lyme disease, dealing with cardiac and neurological damage. He is still hoping to get back to school, still hoping to get his license so he can drive his own car, to get his life back.

But, remarkably, he is still the same joyful, jovial kid. In spite of all that he has been through since being bitten by a tick in the summer of 1998, he remains funny, light-hearted, open-minded, optimistic and always, always thankful.

What a gift!


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.