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Monday, March 10, 2014

A Dying Breed.

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.

23 comments:

  1. My paternal family farm (now just grain crops) faces the same fate, unless one of my cousin's sons steps up to the plate. Those of us that love the farm and family history can only hope….

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    1. Michelle - I think it's a hard choice to decide to farm - dairy or otherwise. But it has to be more rewarding than to sit behind a desk all day.

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  2. I understand dying is a part of living, but once these grand old-timers are gone, there is no one to replace them. And as more and more of them pass, it truly changes the very core of the community.

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    1. Mama Pea - That is so true. There are no good stories anymore. And the family values that held these big farming clans together are starting to go by the wayside.

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  3. That's sad. Maybe someone will keep it going?

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    1. LHIB - I am hoping that my friend (the son) will find a nice, young family that wants to start a dairy and work them into the farm. I'm dropping big hints every chance I get...

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  4. Oh this is always sad dairy farmers do work so hard. It is a dying industry around here I was talking to our accountant and he visited a barn that was run by robots and the "diary farmer" only went to the barn every third day. Yes it is true and scary to me. I guess that particular Dairy Farmer's only ailment will be carpal tunnel from checking his fancy phone for updates from the robots in the barn. Sounds like science fiction doesn't it. I am sorry about your friend he deserves his rest. Hug B

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    1. Buttons - Egads! Robots in the barn? Is nothing sacred?

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  5. This reminded me of my "Uncle Lonnie Carter." He wasn't really my uncle, he was my father's. He lived and farmed in rural Uhrichsville, OH, the same town where my father was born. I remember visiting when I was a young lad and he would show me all around the farm, letting me "help" with the chores. Sadly after he passed no one took over them farm and it faded away. I don't really believe that type of small farming is viable anymore with today's rising costs and small salary. You really would have to want that type of lifestyle and agree to break even as you went, and that does appeal to a lot of people. I am sorry about the passing of your friend and hope you remember the good times you had together.

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    1. Hiker - There sure aren't a lot of monetary rewards for small farming. But what would this country be without them? No diversity. No quality. I am hopeful that the new, young farmers can keep the dream alive.

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  6. I too have seen small farms go by the wayside, even in my extended family. Sorry for the loss of your friend and try to remember the good times you had together.

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  7. He sounds exactly like the neighbor that I had when I grew up. My mom and I use to go and get milk from his milk cows. When he died it was sad. Like you said, it was an end to the farm. Sorry for your loss of a good neighbor.

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    1. SMG - I grew up near a farm with an aging husband and wife - he plowed with a horse. Their kids wanted nothing to do with it and couldn't wait to throw them in a nursing home and sell the farm.

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  8. "The times they are a Changing"...the loss of a Patriarch always has these ripples of effect throughout the area! "Big L" must have worried about the way things are going. He did live in grand times for the most part with great changes for good and yes some for the not so good. It does make one worry about the ability of people to work and work hard. Unemployment would not be where it is if people did not mind hard and sometimes dirty work as we all get to know on a farm. I hope your good neighbor has a nice new table to sit at to watch over his family and be with ones that have gone before. God Bless Him!

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    1. Fiona - That is such a nice thought. I think he is waiting for Susie to join him. He was a very kind and gentle man.

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  9. Indeed, it is sad when you know that an era is ending and no matter how much you wish otherwise, it's not likely to change. What happened to the days of a farm being a means to feed and clothe your family, and not a way to make money? Sad to know you've lost your friend.

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    1. FFG - Yes, it's all about profit now, isn't it? Taxes kill you and the price of milk dropped as the price of feed rose. You have to be pretty creative to make it on a small dairy these days.

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  10. It is sad---these folks are what MADE community. As they pass on, there is less and less of a life we all desperately need. Sorry about your neighbor.

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    1. Sue - While change is inevitable, it sure isn't always for the better, is it?

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  11. Wonderful story and tribute to your friend. I read that many young men (and women) are still interested in the farming lifestyle. It seems that most will keep it small, maybe only providing for themselves and close community. The wheel turns. I still have hope!

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  12. Oh Susan, its not the "end of the line"...look at you, and your place. look at the ranching family down the road from us (about 20 mile give or take a few) they just bought the bliss ranch and they will continue on what 50 years he left behind - with their three little daughters ages 2, 4, and 6...look at us - george our original homesteader would approve...

    the names and faces will always change, but the determination and drive and Love, especially Love for the land, will always be beating in someones heart...

    (yes, that damn glass is half full. now have a drink with me...LOL)

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    1. GWFW - Thank you for bringing me to my senses! You are right. Every one of us, in our own small way, can keep the ideals alive. I'd be happy to have a drink with you! We can toast to your new kitty!!!!!

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