COUNTY AGENT GUY
Spring is the time of year when the world rouses from its long winter slumber and renews itself. The birds are nesting, schoolchildren are looking forward to long, lazy summer afternoons and farmers lose themselves in the urgent business of tilling and planting.
Spring is also the season when the hammock began to taunt me.
Some years ago, our two sons gave me a hammock for Father’s Day. I smiled an indulgent, fatherly smile when I opened the package. The boys looked on anxiously, awaiting my approval. “How nice!” I exclaimed, trying to sound convincing, “A hammock! Just what I always wanted!” In truth, I thought it would be about as practical as yet another necktie that I wouldn’t wear.
At my sons’ insistence, we immediately hung the hammock. We found that it fit perfectly between the pair of towering cottonwood trees that stand guard beside our driveway.
I was elected to be the first to try the hammock. I dutifully climbed aboard the swaying concoction of nylon netting. I reclined in it for a moment and declared it magnificent. I thanked the boys for their gift, adding that I had to go as there was a field of alfalfa that needed to be cut. I saw the shadow of disappointment darken their faces, but thought that they needed to learn that these things had to be done, that time and sunshine wait for no man.
And so the hammock went unused, except for by our sons, during the course of that entire summer. Many an evening I would return home after yet another long day of dairy farming and pass the hammock on my weary trek to our farmhouse. The hammock seemed to chide me, asking how much of my soul I’d sold that day and how many crumbs the world had offered in return.
There finally came the day when I couldn’t stand to look at the hammock any longer. Its leisurely slouch had become a painful reminder of my total lack of leisure. Besides, I told myself, winter was coming and it wouldn’t do the hammock any good to hang around outdoors during the long cold.
But before I took the hammock down, I decided to try it once again. After all, I had a few spare moments and nobody was looking.
I clambered into the hammock and allowed my back to be molded by its forgiving netting. In the warm sunshine, suspended between heaven and earth, I began to truly relax for the first time in eons. The cottonwood leaves murmured in a gentle breeze as I swayed pleasantly in my nylon cocoon.
Suddenly I was no longer a harried dairyman who had to run at breakneck speeds from before dawn until after dark. I no longer had any worries about loan schedules and I forgot about all the trouble I was having with my worn-out machinery.
I was Tom Sawyer, drifting upon the placid Mississippi on a wooden raft with my pal Huckleberry Finn. Huck and I had decided to become pirates and were scouting the riverbank for Spanish galleons to plunder. We were close to the bank now, slipping through the shade of these giant cottonwoods, silent, stealthy, very pirate-like…
I awoke with a start. Sitting up, I glanced around, sheepishly wondering if anyone had seen me and half thinking that Huck was still nearby. I was quite alone.
I pondered upon that experience. I thought about the astonishing speed at which our boys were growing up and wondered if, 100 years from now, anyone would care how much land I had farmed or how many cows I had milked. I wondered if anyone had ever carved on a dairyman’s headstone. “He was always in the barn by 5:00.” And if they did, I wondered who might care.
I concluded that the only true legacy we leave behind is our children and that in the end, family is all that counts. And in the end, a pauper winds up with the same amount of land as a billionaire.
So I made a resolution: I vowed to expend more energy on our sons and less on worry. We would go to the lake more often and skip more stones and catch more water bugs and chase more fireflies than we had in the past.
And I also resolved that whenever I heard Huck calling, I would answer.
Jerry’s book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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