I was out riding in the country on a warm Spring morning the other day. The buds on the trees were starting their annual growth, the grass was getting greener and the warmth of the sun washed over me as I passed a yard that had just been mowed, the smell filling my nostrils with that rich "green" odor. It was one of those days when the sky was a deep blue and the air so clear that the wind seems to softly caress your skin as you slice through it. After a few hours I stopped for lunch at a small restaurant at the junction of two highways and ordered a big old slab of pie and a cup of coffee. I don't usually drink coffee, but pie and tea just ain't right.
I was sitting alone at the lunch counter for a few minutes before I was joined by a middle aged man who obviously had worked with his hands his whole life. He wore old overalls and a beat up straw cowboy hat. His hands were calloused and his forehead was dried and wrinkled. His eyes had that squint that spoke of long days working in the fields under a hot sun.
Without facing me he asked, "Is that your bike out there?"
"Yup. Why? It's still standing up isn't it?" I returned with a laugh..
"Oh yeah, I was just asking." he replied and turned to me and smiled. "Name's Ward Bascomb." and he thrust out his hand. I returned the gesture and couldn't help but notice his hand was rough and huge with a firm grip. "You from around here?"
"Not really. Newton Falls, about forty miles East of here."
"Oh yeah, I know it."
He ordered up some eggs then turned to me again. ....
"I used to have a Harley 'bout thirty years ago. An old Pan Head. Got it from my uncle."
"What happened to it?"
"Sold it to buy a tractor. I miss it...But at least I still got the tractor!" and he let out a little chuckle.
"What kinda crops do ya usually grow?"
"Oh, mostly just feed for the cows. I keep 'bout 100 head of dairy cows."
"How's that goin'?"
"Some years good....some years bad. Farmin' ain't never gonna get anyone rich."
"That's what MY uncle used to say. HE raised dairy cows. But he had to work in a factory too just to keep up."
"Well, at least I ain't had to do that for some time. I DID work for Goodyear for a while when I was younger, but once I got back into cows I've managed to make it work. I was raised on the farm."
"You got a family Ward?"
"Oh yeah. Me and the missus got two daughters and two sons. One daughter and one son are in college. When the younguns go I'll probably have to hire some help. But it's a good life for all of us. The missus has a big garden and we live in a big old farmhouse that used to be my dad's."
My mind flashed back to sitting on my uncle's big front porch drinking iced tea from a tall glass on a beautiful Summer day. Then I also remembered how my uncle used to have to get up at 4:30 AM for the morning milking and STILL have to leave for work at the plant in the afternoon. I remember watching him plow one weekend when I was little and thinking, 'How can anyone do that all day in this heat? I could NEVER be a farmer!' But even then I still respected what he did.
After a while I stood to leave and my new friend Ward walked me to the bike and we spoke of times past and present. He gave me his number so's I can hook up with him another time to buy some beef for one of our events and we bade our goodbyes.
As I rode away I thought about how ours used to be an agricultural society, then an industrial one. Now I don't know what it is.
One day not long ago I rode through the suburbs looking at nice, well kept houses thinking, 'What the Hell do all these people DO for a living?' Most of the factories, mills and plants that were flourishing when I was a kid are gone. Even though MOST households have two incomes nowadays, there just doesn't seem to be that much work available. Then it hit me: We've become a nation of people who sell things to each other.
Most of us don't actually PRODUCE anything. We sell things that people from OTHER countries produce. Or we sell services to each other. Like food service [restaurants] or maintenance service [carpenters and plumbers]. We sell merchandise [retail stores] or we sell building service [construction]. We sell real estate. We work in offices for companies that sell insurance. We invest and promote. We sell our work and ourselves on consignment. But what do we actually produce as a people? Have we really become a nation almost entirely commited to living off the industry of others?
I mean sure, there are still factories here and there employing workers. There's even a few steel mills and auto plants scattered across the country. I've heard there's even a few companies manufacturing things like TVs and computers right here in the good old USA! But not very many. Most of EVERYTHING we use comes from overseas. Steel, cars, electronics, appliances, oil....a lot of our clothing is now made elsewhere. Hell, I bet most sex toys are probably made in Taiwan or China! I own a Fender 12 string guitar I bought to replace one that got ripped off and found it was made in Korea!!
One thing that IS still mostly made right here though is FOOD. And as long as there's still people like Ward Bascomb around to feed us at least we're not entirely depending on the rest of the world.
So, next time ya see a farmer and ya get the chance to tell him how much he's appreciated and respected....do it and MEAN it. I'm sure he probably doesn't get that very much.