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Closing the gate

By Staff | Apr 20, 2018

He was laid to rest on a cold, snowy Iowa April day. The robins were confused and tree branches were budding out as snow piles mocked their plans to leaf out.

He was 72, and had seen many a spring robin and many an Iowa snow storm in all the years he spent farming and raising cattle. Today he was going home-in a box made of natural barn wood, a farm scene inside the lid and a toy tractor worked into the casket spray. Photos depicted a lifetime of livestock, soil, family and abounding love. A community of other farmers and their families stood in long lines to pay tribute to one of their brothers in agriculture.

He had spent his lifetime doing what he loved-first with his father, then with his son. Tomorrow his son would put on his cap and work gloves like he did every day of his life, but this time he would face the world for the first time without his father, carrying on the very work which came from his father.

And his life would never be the same.

It’s a common story. Few are those who ever got into farming without that work coming from the ones who gave life to them. The older generation came through their own tough times in agriculture, and passed on the “guts-of-steel,” “work-hard-and-work-harder” philosophy to their farm children, making them tough enough to do the job through all kinds of economic times. He knew they would need it to survive.

Parents raise their children so the children won’t need them anymore. But for farmers and their fathers, that bond goes to the grave, along with the answers to questions that were forgotten to be asked, and all kinds of knowledge that would have been only a phone call away.

Now, he just wonders what Dad would have done or thought. He makes his way into each new day, hoping he learned everything he could from his ‘old man.’ Surrounded by family and friends who love him, there’s still a void that is so real that only a father-or a father’s memory- can fill in the life of his farmer son. And he faces every farm job with a memory.

Quarrels are whisked away and regrets may settle into younger bones, but there is no one who can replace the love and advice of a father who spends his entire life working with his son. It’s more than a life shared together. It’s a brotherhood; a friendship that can be tested by fire at times within differences of opinion; but fire refines steel, and steel forms the bond.

That father was buried in his Sunday best; my own father was buried in his blue jeans and blue denim work shirt that he wore every day of his life. He, like most all farmers, had hands that would only get “so” clean, with grease and dirt that he fought off of them every day. But at the final harvest of their lives, farmers go back to the soil that is part of who they are.

When death comes for a farmer, the gate of life closes here on earth, but the gates of the next world open wide. He taught with his life as Jesus taught-using agriculture as a basis.

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. ” (John 10:3-4)

When the gate of life closes behind a farmer, it is because he is following the voice of his Shepherd. That new gate opens wide-though it pierces the hearts of those left behind, standing at life’s gate, with tears and sadness as they say farewell. But the farmer knows he did all he could on earth, and that there are wonderful things awaiting him in heaven’s pasture.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

Karen Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net and www.karenschwaller.com.

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