COUNTY AGENT GUY
It’s Easter, that time of year in here in the Midwest that marks the end of Almost Spring and heralds the arrival of Whoops, I Guess It’s Still Winter. This means that the season This Time It Has To Be Spring is just around the corner. We hope.
When I was a kid, Easter meant dressing up in our Sunday best and sitting on the unforgiving wooden pews at First Lutheran and listening attentively while the pastor sermonized about sin and forgiveness, death and resurrection. I had no idea what any of it had to do with me. Death was distant and abstract. And I was so young that I hadn’t yet gotten the chance commit any sins. At least none of the juicy ones.
While the pastor’s voice reverberated from the cathedral-like ceiling of the sanctuary, I thought about the ham that had taken sanctuary in our oven at home. Earlier that morning, I had watched Mom slide a ham that was the size of minivan into the oven. I knew that when we returned to our farmhouse it would be filled with the heavenly aroma of roasting ham. I could already see its carbonized crust, the part that everyone liked best and that my siblings and I fought over. And don’t get me started on Mom’s ham gravy flowing down a volcano of mashed potatoes.
As the church service dragged on and on, I tried not to think about the possible long-term negative effects of sitting for lengthy periods of time on a hard pew. My mind wandered back to the ham and I would salivate, my stomach rumbling in anticipation. I wondered if it was a sin to covet an Easter ham. If so, I was ready to beg for forgiveness and get home.
My cousin Bobby Moeller is a Lutheran pastor. I hope he keeps his Easter sermon to the point and doesn’t make too many kids commit the sin of ham covetousness. I hope that Bobby remembers the Easters we shared as kids, the farmhouse full of riotous cousins and siblings, the kitchen thrumming as moms and aunts prepare a feast large enough to satiate a ravenous Mongol horde.
And after the meal, playing on the lawn (if winter hadn’t returned) as our dads sat on the porch talking quietly and smoking. Sometimes an uncle would join us in our games, which made us kids feel a lot cooler and a little more grown up.
Bobby and I recently lost our last uncle on our mothers’ side. In another life, at another time, Ray Hammer would have been a Viking.
Ray was a skilled machinist and a farmer. He could make a living with a tractor and a plow or with a portable welder and a bundle of welding rod. Answering the call of his Viking blood, Ray would go off on a wander that could last for years. When he returned for a family Easter celebration, he would hold me spellbound with tales of his adventures.
Sometimes Ray would recall his stint in the Marines, how he had enlisted as a scrawny teenager and was discharged at a strapping 6-foot-2. I found this difficult to believe. Ever since I was a little boy, my mental image of Ray has been similar to that of a sasquatch.
Ray told me about working in the Alaskan oilfields, how the -60 air made every inhalation sting. How even at those deeply cold temperatures, there was a refrigeration unit chugging alongside the oilrig to refreeze the permafrost that had turned squishy from the heat generated by drilling operations.
He showed me photos of the log cabin where he had lived for a spell, hunting and fishing and living off the land. I asked him about the large and menacing steel spikes that poked outward from the cabin’s windowsill and he replied that they were there to keep out the grizzlies. This seemed like a bit of a stretch. If a grizzly were to have a run-in with Ray, I would have felt sorry for the bear.
Ray sometimes worked as a roving welder, traveling from farm to farm with his portable welding rig, his faithful Black Lab riding shotgun. It sounded like a manly existence, a modern way to live as a Viking. Except for instead of raiding and pillaging, Ray brazed and welded.
It now falls to Bobby and me and our cousins to be the uncles and the grandparents at Easter gatherings. I hope that we can live up to Ray’s example. And also that we don’t have to wait too long to enjoy a slice of that scrumptious Easter ham.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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