When you’re as old as a town
I don’t mean to say I’m old, but it’s hard to dispute the fact that when I was born there were people alive who were probably living at the time of the Civil War. But if you go blabbing that secret, I will have to hunt you down and flog you with a wet corn stalk.
And just between you and me, this year while on vacation in Florida I ordered from the “55-Plus” menu for the first time. Ever. I thought it would feel great to save a little money, and although it mostly bruised my ego, I guessed the small savings was nice. But after that meal I chose to go back to the beach and stick my head back into the ocean sand.
I didn’t want to know I was old enough for that.
I knew a lady from a neighboring town who made it to the ripe old age of 104-she almost made it to 105. She was a spunky farm wife in the day, and there wasn’t a blade of grass that grew under her busy feet-not even in her later years. She could work circles around anyone. She was part coon dog and could smell trouble brewing, and could see it coming from afar since she had lived around those parts for 60 years.
She kept her family going, as mothers do-and without any lip from her children or anyone else who knew her. And what she said, went.
We laid that spirited woman to rest last spring, and at her funeral luncheon a man approached me with some memories of her. He also told me as we talked that their town was 125 years old. Then he said something that really made me think.
He said, “…do you know that she was almost as old as the town?”
Sheesh. That sounds old … to be almost as old as a town.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey recently spoke of an old farmer who traveled to Des Moines to have his century farm recognized. As the man approached with his walker, Northey congratulated him. The man replied, with teary eyes, “I’ve been waiting 50 years for this day.”
He had willingly contributed the sweat and grit that farm life demands, and the years went by almost unnoticed. He said farewell over time to his involvement with the farming, but not to his love of the farm. It took the use of a walker, but he made it to the stage that acknowledged what he had worked for all of his life. And with his fifth generation farmers standing there with him, he knew his life’s work would continue, and also be his legacy.
The centenarian generation is our true “information superhighway” today’s living legends. The internet can tell us much of what we need to know, but those people can tell us things the internet cannot because they have lived life and come out on the other side of the storms. They are our direct connection to history-stories of their hard work, hard ways, hard luck, and lessons they learned the hard way–which was often the only way. They know.
They now look at real life through the lens of hindsight. One hundred years of it.
If you ever have the chance to sit at the feet of a centenarian (or of any old-timer) and visit, do yourself the favor of having that conversation. And not just once. It’s important for everyone-but certainly for the farming community-to carry those stories of tenacity and determination from the past into the future. We face adversities today, but those people faced some unimaginable trials and lived to tell us about it. They can be a source of strength for us.
They are our original reference guide for true grit, problem solving and ingenuity.
When you’re almost as old as a town, there’s plenty to tell … and plenty to learn.
Even if you were born just short of 100 years after the Civil War ended.
Karen Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.karenschwaller.com
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