It’s funny what strikes us sometimes.
It happened to me this fall as our little two-year-old grandson came to visit us while we were harvesting a soybean field. He rode with his grandpa first in the combine, dressed for the day with his cowboy boots and seed corn cap.
When that ride ended, he was helped down and began to run as fast as two-year-old legs can run through soft ground and dirt clods (his face a billboard for excitement) to get to the grain cart tractor I was driving.
In just that short of a time, it got me thinking about children who don’t ever get a chance to have that experience. To a farm kid, it’s an everyday kind of thing, and they grow up not even realizing how special of a life they get to live just by being born into a farm family. It got me thinking about our grandson and what his life would be like in any other reality.
What if he never got a chance to know what a tractor is, let alone ride in one?
What if he would never know the great smell of freshly-cut alfalfa; or the discipline of getting that hay cut, baled and stacked in the barn?
What if he never saw the stars in our huge Iowa sky, or had a chance to play alongside a creek or in an overhead bin in the corn crib?
What if he never got to run through a field to see Mom, Dad, Grandpa or Grandma?
What if he never got to share dad’s lunch while sitting alongside him in the tractor?
What if he never got to bottle-feed a baby animal, or if he never experienced falling down in the hog manure? And what if he never experienced the trials of cleaning out the barn?
What if he never got to greet a hungry animal as it came up to be fed by him? And what if he never understood what a big thing that is?
What if he was never able to shoot pigeons or hoops in the haymow?
What if he would never swim in the cow tank, or feel like the seed corn cap he’s wearing is just a familiar and comfortable part of who he is?
What if he could never tell the story to his grandpa about riding a pig backwards while they were loading them; or deal with the pain of having to take his prized calf to the locker?
What if he would never learn compassion towards animals left to weather an unexpected winter storm, or feel the joy of accompanying Dad and Grandpa to the sale barn?
What if he never knew the freedom of running atop of a line of round bales, or taking the steering wheel of a tractor for the first time by himself while Mom and Dad watched?
What if he never knew what a combine was, or how important that combine is to feeding the world? What if he didn’t know where his food came from?
What if he would never know the excitement of climbing into a John Deere 95 combine, thinking it was the best combine ever, just because it’s Dad’s?
What if he never knew the thrill of riding in a semi, or the responsibility in taking the wheel for himself and feeling out the clutch as he takes that first quarter-mile drive under Dad’s watchful supervision? What if he never knew the pride of being paid in grain for his first real job at home, which he had to market for himself?
What if he never learned compassion by watching an animal die that he had cared for? And what if he had never helped bring a baby animal into the world? What if he never looked into those new eyes and knew they depended on him for everything? And what if he never felt the desire to provide all of those things because he loves that animal?
What if he would never experience watching an antique tractor parade with his dad and grandpa, hearing their stories and dreaming of owning his own tractor someday? And what if he would never feel the rush of actually buying his first tractor someday?
And what if he would never know the difficulty and the pure joy of being able to work out ‘tomorrow’s game plan’ with Dad as a colleague in farming?
For all of the ups and downs that agriculture presents today, a farm is still a place that teaches what a textbook cannot. Experiences cannot be taught or replicated — only lived.
And that goes, no matter how old you are.
Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.