Laugh often and find the best in others

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“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.” 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Our home was a gathering place, where folks stopped in from early morning to late in the day, took a seat at the round table and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Mom always had a fresh pot ready, a percolator the size many church gatherings use for special dinners.

“No, no, I’m not old enough to drink coffee,” Bill Cameron said in his unique voice when offered a cup. It always puzzled me, because he was old enough to be my dad’s friend. He was a farmer, he worked hard and milked cows along with his hard-working wife, but he drank orange pop and acted like a kid.

I was maybe 6 or so when I watched him play the guitar at a neighborhood card party made up of dairy farm family friends, and even the kids stopped horsing around to listen. He told jokes that made the most serious men belly laugh, the ladies chuckle and shake their heads and the rest of us want to be just like him.

Over the years, Bill’s preposterous stories, with the most deadpan delivery, drew friends from youngest kids to the oldest ladies. I offered him coffee at my own table, and he still wasn’t old enough. He chose ice cream instead. I reached the conclusion he was ageless. I wanted him to live forever.

Early Friday morning, a neighbor came to my door to let me know Bill had passed away. It feels like the sun stopped shining.

Bill was a dyed-in-the-wool farmer. Cameron’s Big Rock Farms, for many years a dairy farm, had been operated by Bill, wife Karen and son Fred. In more recent years, Bill concentrated on grain and hay farming. He told me he missed milking cows “about as much as a fella misses a toothache.”

With his jovial wit, Bill was a welcome addition to any gathering. Known as the community jokester and storyteller, people sought him out. If his red truck was parked at our village market, it was reason enough to take time to go in, just to see Bill. Everyone was entertained by his wry observations and ornery, sparkling smile. Bill’s joyful spirit and unforgettable character sowed a wealth of stories which will be shared for many years to come.

His roots ran deep in the Jeromesville community, and he claimed he got a bit homesick if he wandered outside of Mohican Township. Cameron exemplified living happily where one is planted, with gratitude and simplicity. If a neighbor needed help, Bill was the first one there and the last to leave, working tirelessly with the energy of a man half his age.

He was a self-taught musician, playing guitar, mandolin and banjo completely by ear. He had performed with his father and uncle in his early years and continued to enjoy playing country and bluegrass music throughout his 78 years.

Bill could often be found in his shop, cleaning and waxing his trucks and John Deere tractors until they looked brand new. He enjoyed the technology of being able to check the weather of each of his farms on his phone.

Just a few years ago, I had lunch with Bill in the early springtime. “Do you still get excited to start planting? Is it still fun?” I asked this man who was the closest I had to enjoying a day with my dad.

Even if Bill had chosen not to answer this in words, his expression said it all. He lit up with a big smile and said, “Yeh, it’s still fun.”

He thought for a bit and then said, “You know, it’s crazy, and I don’t know why this is, but a farmer gets all excited to start but then ya are just as happy to get done. Why is that?” he asked.

He stood up, rubbed his hands together, his typical way of signaling it was time to go. He rarely said goodbye. With one more quick joke, he gave me a nod and headed for his truck.

Some goodbyes are mighty tough to say.

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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, in college.

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