Everything I Need to Know
Everything I need to know I learned from Norwegian bachelor farmers.
Take our neighbor Martin as a for instance. We owned some machinery with Martin, so I got to see a lot of him and learned much from him as I grew up.
Back when I was a kid, farmers did much more hard physical labor than nowadays. Federal law thus mandated that farmers be served both a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon lunch.
Whenever we were working at our place, Mom would see to it that the fed-farmer law was obeyed by providing us with the requisite lunches. These lunches consisted of sandwiches and perhaps a sweet roll, all washed down by gallons of boiling-hot coffee that was strong enough to strip the rust off a plowshare.
We would commonly stand on the headland and gobble our lunches. Out there in the field, there was no way for us to wash our hands.
Martin took pride in his mechanical abilities, so he was usually the main fixer-upper guy. This meant that his hands were usually extremely grimy.
Prior to picking up his sandwich, Martin would take a perfunctory stab at cleaning his hands by wiping them on his bib overalls. The trouble is, he seldom (if ever) washed his overalls, which meant they were just as grimy as his hands.
But there was a way to deal with this dilemma. A guy simply had to grab his sandwich by one corner, then eat everything but that corner. A farm dog usually stood by, eagerly watching for any discarded sandwich corners.
That must have struck Martin as wasteful. I watched numerous times as Martin bolted down his entire sandwich, grimy corner and all. His lesson was twofold: waste not, want not; and no one ever died from eating a little axle grease.
My dad's uncle, Stanley, was another Norwegian bachelor farmer who had a big influence on my life.
Stanley was the kind of guy who never seemed to get dirty. His striped gray bib overalls were always spotless, as was his farmstead and well-cared-for pickup truck.
I was once told to report to Stanley's farm to help rake ear corn from the crib and into the corn sheller. Stanley's job, it seemed, was to superintend. He stood upwind of the dust and watched as I raked ear corn into the insatiable maw of the sheller.
A neighbor stopped by to jaw a bit with Stanley. My hearing was much better back then, so I was able to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Stanley was asked which was the oldest of his many siblings. "I am," Stanley replied.
"Oh?" said the neighbor. "I thought you were about the youngest."
"That may be so," Stanley deadpanned, "But I've lived so much faster than the rest!"
And so Stanley taught me two important lessons: don't go breaking your back if you can get someone younger and dumber to do the work for you; and concocting a colorful lie can be a lot more entertaining than telling the truth.
George Pander was a self-educated Norwegian bachelor farmer mechanic who lived in our neighborhood. He was an excellent mechanic, but more importantly, he worked for cheap. Because of this and because our farm machinery was rickety and old, I got to see a lot of George.