Dirt Farmer

There he is in the field a farmer, a grandfather,
husband, friend, church deacon. A raw boned man
dressed in bib overalls, sweat stained felt hat,
shod in a pair of well worn Brogans, and a thread bare
blue chambray shirt. He only had three changes of clothes.

He plows with a team of mules, they have been
together it seems forever. He doesn’t gee or
haw or slap their flanks with the reins, nor does
he pull the leather in his hands. The mules
know, they have done this forever too.

The furrows are straight as ruled lines on a
note page. He stumbles now and then. The mules
understand and stop to turn their heads in unison
looking back at him. Then hand on plow they resume
their plodding though a little slower now. So he can
keep up.

Seventy years old, his knees and ankles broken
down by farming, by the earth tugging at him, and
yet he wakes up everyday anxious. His need is to
feel the dirt in his calloused hands, his fingernails
cracked and chipped from the work, but still loving and
kind. The mules know this.

When the day is over and he turns the team to pasture
one of them will gently, tenderly brush against him. They have
pulled for him all day without complaint, hard lathered
work and yet at dawn they stand at the gate ready for the harness.
The fields are his canvas to paint with colors of  cotton, soy beans
and corn even in the driest of summers. He always gives back.

On a Saturday he will go to town and sit in the barbershop
where the other old men will brush up against each other
with the words of years. He’ll buy a bag of candy corn for
the grand kids and after a haircut treat himself to a little
lilac water.  But the smell of the mules, the dirt, the farm
is still on his skin. It is a comfort to his family.

One winter he came down  with consumption and though he tried
his tired body could not, would not let him leave the bed. The doctor
visited and shook his head. His wife of fifty years sat with
him through the whispering days until one morning he awoke,
touched her cheek and said, “I have always loved you.” She
bent over and kissed his forehead. He closed his eyes and died.

The day he was buried, the church could not hold the
hundreds that came to his funeral. It was winter while the
fields were asleep. The next year when spring turned back
the earth’s covers the fields refused to grow the crops.
On a bright sunny day in June the mules laid down and died.
The farm was buried with them.

Copyright: 2008, Donald Harbour

2 thoughts on “Dirt Farmer

  1. Speaking as the child of a small family farmer, thank you.

    I moved away from the farm, but of my four siblings my eldest brother took up the reins on those mules (metaphorically speaking) and our farm won’t be buried, at least not this generation.


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