Sometimes I don’t know which phrase is more daunting: “I sold hogs for tomorrow.” Or “The holidays are coming.”
Both of those phrases can cause break-ups of relationships between relatives if the event is handled improperly, and both can result in seeking out the secret brandy bottle hidden in the chicken coop and saved for sharpening those coping skills – or maybe even for eliminating the need for them altogether.
Let’s face it. The holidays really were here, and even though there are many stressors that come with them, affording the celebration ranks as high as General Patton did in his day.
Farm families have known for generations that some years they “have” and some years they “have not.” It’s no secret, and sometimes I wonder how many times farm people have nipped at the hidden brandy bottle over the years before deciding they wanted to live like that.
Growing up, we had no idea what Mom and Dad spent on us each year at Christmas. As children, all seven of us kids received three things – something we needed, something we wanted, and a surprise.
While it was a sensible plan for spending, it had to have been quite a burden just doing the shopping, let alone paying for it and getting everything wrapped for Christmas morning.
But Christmas isn’t just about financing and opening the gifts, of course. To my father – a farmer and a great problem-solver, Christmas fun sometimes included some mystery.
One year our youngest brother got a special gift for Christmas, but it was the way in which it was given that made that Christmas so memorable.
He opened a box that was under the tree with his name on it, and the box held a paper that gave him instructions on where to go on the farm to find another box with his name on it.
He went there and found another box – and did this seven times.
We followed him around the farm that cold morning like common street gang members as he (and we) went from place to place in search of what was waiting for him.
The final box contained a clue that led us to an empty grain bin where our brother’s brand new bike awaited him, fully assembled.
Dad grew up with skimpy Christmas mornings as a kid in the 1930s and ’40s. That morning had to be fun for him.
On the other hand, my brother was exhausted, appearing like he’d just returned from the Serengeti after hunting down the evening meal’s main course.
The bike was costly, I’m sure, but we all still remember that Christmas morning.
When the hog market tanked in 1998, my husband and I had more hogs here than at any other time in our production history, and less money than we had ever had as well. What were we going to do for Christmas for our three young children who were beginning to wonder about the validity of this so-called ‘Santa Claus?’
If Santa was scanty our cover would be blown because they all knew things were tough on the farm. We couldn’t even afford the tissues we needed to cry about it that year.
Christmas arrived and brought them a few small things, along with new bikes for each of them, which they did need and want. Our cover was not blown and Santa Claus remained a real person in their minds and hearts.
We couldn’t afford it, even though the bikes were not expensive ones, but it was worth it to keep Santa Claus in our Christmas celebration for another year.
At least we had that great memory from such an awful year on the farm.
My husband, however, fumbled for that brandy bottle hidden in the chicken shed when the bill came for the bikes. And yet, we managed to find the money somehow.
Love is expensive, as they say. Sometimes the cost of Christmas is worth the pain.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.karenschwaller.com.
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