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Are you busy?

By Staff | May 26, 2017

It’s a question many a farm wife has heard over the years. It’s an honest question, and yet it stirs up a little consternation when her husband comes in while she’s clearly busy working on something and asks her, “Are you busy?”

It can be a rather threatening feeling since we don’t always know what kind of help is needed, how long our help will be needed, what we’ll smell like when we come back in, or if we’ll still be friends after working together. (Oh, the hog loading stories…)

I read that a chicken can run up to speeds of nine miles per hour when it feels threatened. Nonetheless-threatened or not by that question-farm wives (instead of scampering away in chicken-like style) typically face the music and grab their work gloves.

Whenever my husband asks for my help, I often think of a conversation we once had while out traveling. I saw a sign that pointed to Leavenworth, Kansas, and said, “Hey, you want to stop and do a little hard labor while we’re out and about?”

My husband replied, “We have that in Milford.”

In my speaking travels I met a woman who told me her husband was having trouble getting his arm into the business end of a sow to pull her pigs, so he asked her if she would do it. She was grossed out at the thought, but she mustered up all of her courage to stick her arm in there that first time, because she knew her smaller arm would probably get the job done.

I’m pretty sure I would have hurled right there on the spot.

Her husband tried to encourage her by saying, “Just think of them as $50 bills.” She told him she didn’t mind $50 bills, but, “…these counterfeits (dead pigs) have to go.’ “

I said to her of the experience, “Well, you lived to tell about it, didn’t you?”

She said, “Yes I did, and so did he.”

Oh, sometimes farmers walk a thin line in asking for their wives’ help.

Farm women abide by a lot of unwritten rules. “Everything else comes first” is often the first and foremost one, as she learns to stop what she’s doing to help outside. She sorts and loads livestock, keeps track of the breeding schedule, runs farm equipment, learns how to vaccinate and knows not to hesitate when she hears, “Call the vet!” She learns that an open gate can only bring bad news, and does the housework whenever she’s not at her job in town, in the field or out in the livestock yards. She keeps records, the books and the peace.

A young girl I know who grew up in town was dating a farm hand and was beginning to understand the constraints that farm life can place on relationships. There is always something that needs to be done, and 5:00 is a far cry from quitting time. After all, the sun is still out.

When we were once visiting about farm life, she asked, “Will I always come second?”

I understood that. I was her more than three decades earlier, and I grew up on a farm.

Coming second is the nature of the beast, especially if there is a crop to plant or harvest, or hay to bale and put away before the rain. Farm babies in the barn take precedence over everything, as do livestock chores, which never go away. It’s the nature of the beast, and in time, she understands that. When she works her first ground she’ll understand what her farmer feels when he’s out there in his own little slice of heaven.

I said to her, “You just need to be patient with that.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’ll really come in third. No farm wife I know ever ranked ahead of her husband’s pair of pliers.

And she better bring a pair with her outside when he asks her if she’s busy. She’ll probably need them while doing her share of the hard labor out there.

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