I love talking to farmers. They have the best stories, and it's all because of the scars. Farmers have the best scars, and you need a scar to tell a good story.
I'm serious. All literature is based on scars. Moby Dick? Guy loses his leg to a whale and spends the rest of his life in an all consuming pursuit of revenge.
Hamlet? You tell me -- a guy's father dies and his ghost shows up to tell him he was murdered by his uncle, who then marries his mother. Yeah, that'll leave a mark.
You tell me a great story and somewhere there's a scar, whether it shows or not.
I saw a lot of scars last week and in the process heard some terrific stories.
We had our farm auction. It was a beautiful day -- the nicest day of the spring -- and there was a good crowd on hand. Markets were up, we'd had a couple rains and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I circulated through the group and found that I knew a lot of the people there, but not nearly all.
I want to retroactively apologize to the people I didn't greet -- I was a little preoccupied with trying to get everything done and it seemed like every time I'd stop to chat I'd hear the auctioneer bellowing over the microphone, "Is Brent here?" Then I'd run over to answer questions about some piece of equipment.
All around me I saw a sea of terrific faces -- weather-beaten, missing teeth, floppy hair under seed corn caps, lines and scars. It always makes me smile to look at a crowd of farmers. They're usually not a very distinguished-looking lot, but under the red necks and unshaven chins lie some keen minds and big hearts, along with some six-, seven-, and eight-figure net worths.
In the early afternoon the auction was done; by the next day most of the machinery was gone. I spent the morning putting points, a condenser and a coil into a swather engine that I didn't own anymore, just so the new owner would be able to drive off into the sunset, (he did, at a stately 4 MPH), and that was about the end of it. A couple days later we went to the bank, paid off the last couple of notes and picked up our check.
It was our 32nd anniversary, which somehow seemed appropriate since our wedding day was the last time we were out of debt. We were both 20 when we got married, and that summer we borrowed $2,200 to buy a 1973 Chevy Vega. Within a few years we had three kids, a farm and owed a half million dollars. Three years after that we found ourselves in the midst of a farm crisis and the land we'd bought was worth only half of what we owed on it.
Yeah, that'll leave a mark, too.
With the help of a patient banker, we plugged along and got on top of things just in time to start paying about a decade of college tuition bills.
This isn't a new story. Get a bunch of farmers together and along with the missing fingers and scarred scalps, you'll find broken hearts, tender tummies and frazzled nerve endings.
It all worked out in the end. We still have a farm -- and the kids -- and we don't owe money to anyone.