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39 years on
There once was a man who lived way out in the prairie all alone by himself except for he had a wife. – paraphrased from Mark Twain’s ghost story, The Golden Arm.
That statement described me 40 years ago. I was a young Norwegian bachelor dairy farmer, living the single life. Alone. As in it was just me and my blue heeler dog and my three dozen Holstein cows. I like blue heelers but let’s face it, the breed is not known for its ability to hold deep, philosophical conversations.
Great good fortune smiled upon me one summer evening when the young lady whom I had invited to join me for a refreshment at a local establishment snuck out on me. It took some while for me to begin to suspect what had happened. The truth fully sank in after about an hour, although I still held out hope that she would return to our table saying that there had been a really long line for the ladies’ room.
On my way out of the establishment, I chatted with a waitress who had been extremely kind to me and had graciously overlooked my public humiliation. That situation worked out a little better because the waitress and I have now been married for 39 years and have two adult sons.
We decided to hold our wedding on the first day of spring, which seemed like an apt date for a farmer. I hoped that this would be too late in the year for a blizzard and too soon for fieldwork to begin. It’s difficult for dairy farmers to strike a balance between work and play, mostly because they have zero experience with the “play” side of the equation.
Other than my Holsteins breaking out of their cattle yard – requiring me to round them up in the midnight darkness while wearing a rented tux – getting hitched went off without a hitch. The next day, as we motored toward the Black Hills for our two-day honeymoon, I looked out the car window and saw something alarming.
“What’s the matter?” asked my new bride. “You sound like a dog that needs to go outside and do his business.”
“Don’t you see that?” I replied, gesturing wildly at the window. “That farmer is out plowing! We need to turn around and go home! I should be out working in the field, too!”
“But there are still snowdrifts in our fields. You would just get stuck.”
I hate it when my wife is so obviously right. You’d think that I would have gotten used to it after all these years, but it still bugs me.
That has been by no means the only challenge my wife has had to endure over the past four decades. There was the mid-1980s farm crisis, which nearly cost us our farm and severely strained our mental health. There was a barn fire, which sent a seismic shock through our farming operation.
There was also my manure pit accident and my long stint in the hospital. I wouldn’t be here if my wife hadn’t demanded, more than once, that the medical authorities take the next step. My wife hardly ever left my side the whole time, often breaking the ICU visitation rules. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ICU still has a wanted poster that features a photo of my wife.
My wife has been pregnant three times. About a year after our first son was born, she noticed the telltale signs. A test confirmed her suspicions.
This pregnancy felt so different from the first one that my wife became convinced that she was carrying a girl. She began to buy feminine baby clothes at rummage sales and mentioned possible girl’s names.
Then the bleeding and the cramping began. We rushed to the doctor and soon received the sad news that my wife had miscarried. For years afterward, we might catch sight of a little girl at a playground and wonder, what if?
My wife, as always, was a rock. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “Don’t worry; everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”
Married couples are often asked, “When did you know that this person was the one?” That was easy for me. I knew right away.
I knew because my wife is unfailingly kindhearted and generous. She is steadfastly loving and forgiving, even after all I’ve put her through.
This isn’t just my opinion. Everyone who meets her agrees that my wife is a sweetie.
In Mark Twain’s tale, the wife has a golden arm. My story is similar except for it isn’t my wife’s arm that’s made of gold. It’s her heart.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.