Last Monday, a friend and neighbor passed away suddenly. I had noticed lots of pick up trucks at the farm, but that was not extraordinary. What I didn't know, until his son, also my friend and neighbor, knocked on my front door at 6:15 AM Wednesday morning, was that his father had passed away suddenly from a heart attack.
While not surprised at the news, I was, nonetheless, greatly saddened. Big L, the patriarch of a very large clan, was one of a dying breed of dairy farmers. His father bought this farm many, many years ago (Big L was in his mid-eighties when he passed on), milking a relatively small number of cows - pretty much just enough to support his family. Big L inherited the farm and continued the tradition, while raising a family of his own. His first wife died of cancer and, eventually, Big L met and married a nice woman with children of her own, who he raised as his own, supporting a total of 11. He was a hard worker, as are all dairy farmers. There is no "vacation" for a dairy farmer. It is a 365/24/7 job. You have to know how to fix your own equipment, doctor your cows, bale your own hay, cut your own corn. He finally handed the business down to his son, my present neighbor and friend. Big L would drive the tractors at haying time, help cut the corn, and - of course - supervise. His constant companion was a little Jack Russell terrier named Susie. I think he loved that dog as much as any person. His son is also the local dog warden and Susie was found as a stray and tippy-toed right into Big L's heart and home. These last few years were tough ones for him, health-wise, and he spent most of his time sitting at his kitchen table with Susie by his side. That is where he died.
He was a familiar figure during his retirement - driving (sloooooowly) around the town in his red pick up, stopping here and there to discuss local politics, the weather, the sorry state of dairy farming. I would be out in my garden laboring away and he would roll up, roll down his window, and I would lean against the truck and we would spend an enjoyable half hour or so, complaining, laughing, and gossiping.
It is difficult to imagine passing by the farm (which I do twice a day) and not seeing the kitchen light on. I'm glad I got to know him, and I will treasure the stories he told. (One particularly alarming, yet funny, story involved Thanksgiving, a pair of loose trousers, and a close call.) As is the custom here, there was a wake at his small church, followed by a service and burial in the local cemetery. There were so many cars lining both sides of the road, that I had to park at a friend's house and walk down to the church. As I looked over the gathering, lots of white hair and balding pates were interspersed in the congregation. Alot of them are or were farmers, now retired. Once his son decides to retire (or drops dead in the barn, as he declares), that is the end of this line.