One of my first and fondest memories as a school-age child was riding the bus and listening to Paul Harvey in the mornings. For those who are reading this- if you grew up in Chariton County- Bob Henke was the bus driver on those days, could you have guessed it?
Looking back on it, there wasn’t much to “enjoy” (i.e.: lack of understanding) about Harvey’s airtime at the tiny age of five but something about his voice stuck with me. I sat directly behind Bob in the front seat next to the speaker and was more prone to pink cheeks when someone asked me a question than socializing in return. My feet would swing above the darkened floor of the bus and I’d hold my backpack to my chest with the ferocity of a well trained legionnaire’s shield. Don’t get me wrong, no one ever picked on me – I was safe within the confines of bus #6 but I was shy. Painfully so in the beginning. In a way, I sought comfort in the lull of the radio and Bob’s low laughter.
Even as small children, I think we lean toward certain aspects of people more than others and bass voices have always been something which drew me in. Maybe that’s why my memories of the bus, Bob, and Paul Harvey are tinged with a warm type of nostalgia. Bob would slide open the bus door with a shutter (why is it they always seemed so huge then?) and already have a smile on his lips – a “good morning, Miss Brianna” rumbling out of his chest.
When I was seated, with my flaming pink cheeks, I’d fall into the timbre of Harvey’s baritone. He spoke with the firm cadence of a man who had supreme confidence in God and his thoughts/beliefs. Harvey would dance around a story with melodic intonations and dramatic pauses – the silences caressed by the grind of the brakes along the highway and kids shouting in the back.
I would exit the bus at the grade school, careful not to trip down the steps, and make sure to tell Bob thank you or goodbye the way my momma taught me. (My equivalent of bravery at the age of five = speaking when fleeing.)
Funny how those things stick with you, right?
Harvey’s original speech was delivered in 1978 and though many things in our world have changed since that era, many things have also remained the same. I have had the privilege to grow up surrounded by the very same men Harvey described in his “So God Made a Farmer” speech and, though I’m not married yet, I’ve witnessed the equal-footing hardships the women face. Let it be said: Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” piece is one of my all time favorites. Even before Dodge brought it back to life in their Superbowl ad – it has always held the ability to give me goosebumps on good days and tear up on the bad ones.
I’ve been pushing myself lately to write “harder” things. Things that hurt me. Things I hope will open me back up to what it was like growing up. Things which make me grateful. Things that make me want to cling to prayers before Sunday meals in Ma and Papa’s kitchen.
At first, to be honest, I wasn’t going to share this. Mainly because I cried the steady, silent type of tears while writing it but also because it took a turn in the more personal route and I felt maybe it was something I’d like to keep for my own children. However, the more I thought on it, the more I hoped maybe it would connect with someone out there and touch the soft spot we women guard so fiercely when it comes to the farming/working men we love.
I recorded fifty-three minutes of conversation with my personal favorite farmer’s wife – my grandma Rita – and, bluntly put, it was hard. I sat and listened to her tell me stories about when they were young, newly married, and broke. The hardships during her pregnancies. She reminisced on forty-nine years of marriage to a man who first and foremost devoted/devotes his life to God and hard work.
We sat at the scratched kitchen table, listening to the rain on the deck, and I saw the weight set in her shoulders from a long day. She is a tiny woman in her early seventies (don’t tell her I told you that), barely five foot tall, with warm graffiti freckles on her cheekbones and down her arms from the summer sun. Her hair curls in at the tips, something she despises but I’ve always been jealous of. This weekend is the annual family reunion and she works herself to the bone trying to get the house and the yard up to par for upwards of one hundred and fifty people. She opens up her home in a way I will always cherish. She’s selfless and protective of her children and grandchildren, she can throw a meal together out of nothing, and she always has an extra bed for someone to sleep in if they need a soft place to fall.
In the end – I asked her: “Can you imagine after all these years being married to someone who wasn’t a farmer?”
Her reply was a quiet but firm: “No.”
And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a safe-keeper.” So God made a farmer’s wife.
God said, “I need somebody dedicated enough to wake up when it’s dark, turn on the radio markets, cook breakfast and brew coffee, not get to eat or drink any of it because someone can’t find their shoes, go to work and guide a classroom full of children, return home with a backseat full of groceries to unload, fix supper to take to the field, help with fifth grade math problems before bedtime, sweep up the dirt at the back door knowing it’ll be there again tomorrow, patch grease stained overalls, crawl in between cool sheets and comfort a man whose muscles are cramped and sore, wake up and do it all over again.” So God made a farmer’s wife.
“I need somebody faithful enough to hold her husband’s hand in prayer, gently squeezing his calloused fingers in silent support, and hope the rain will stop as the fields flood or the rain will come when there are cracks big enough to fall into. Somebody to tend a garden in the summer, feed chickens in the fog, run to town for combine parts, memorize every curve in every gravel road, know the difference between the North Forty acreage and the McSparren Place when he calls and needs a ride back to the grain truck, and cheer her son on alone at a ball game because it’s harvest and his dad couldn’t afford to stop running.” So God made a farmer’s wife.
God said, “I need somebody who will keep the peace when tempers flare and nerves are fried, when the bank keeps calling, and bills pile up on the desk. Somebody to tell the farmer to go to the doctor when his lungs are raked with coughing fits, knowing he won’t, but fixes vegetable soup anyway. I need somebody who can work up and fold a pie crust with her eyes closed when he unexpectedly invites all the boys home for supper after a long day in the hay field. Somebody who can spend all afternoon letting rolls rise, fry chicken, and beat mashed potatoes but calmly listen to him say ‘This is good but Momma used to do this instead.’ Somebody who knows the amount of sugar he likes in his sweet tea. And learn by heart the sound of his pickup in the driveway.” So God made a farmer’s wife.
God had to have somebody willing to hold a flashlight in the bitter cold and snow, illuminating the farmer’s hands when delivering a half frozen calf yet clutch that same calf close to her body in the front seat of the pickup knowing it won’t probably make it through the night even in the warm barn.
God said, “I need somebody strong enough to carry children for nine months then continue to carry them the rest of their lives. To tutor them in speech, share with them the love of God, and teach them not to look at the sparks when their daddy is welding. It had to be somebody who would smother a groan while standing at the washer and sort through pockets full of soybeans, rusted bolts, metal chalk, and fuel receipts. Somebody to kiss, worry, hug, pray, guide, laugh, chide, and lead when the hours grow long and he still isn’t home because the baler broke down.”
“Somebody who can heal family grudges, soothe colicky babies, silence gossip, hum “The Old Rugged Cross” while canning peaches, watch grandchildren grow and when they ask – reply, ‘Yes, your granddad is the strongest man I’ve ever known.’” So God made a farmer’s wife.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou