40 years on

Like many fairy tales, mine began with a jolt of misfortune. 

Once upon a time, I was a young dairyman who was living the life of a Norwegian bachelor farmer. As glamorous as that might sound, there were significant downsides to this lifestyle. The unhappiest of them was loneliness.

After all, what’s the point of successfully chasing the cows back in after they break out if you don’t have someone to share the glory with? Or to hold the gate as you gallop through the muck behind your hightailing Holsteins? 

I was in town one fateful evening when I bumped into a young lady whom I knew slightly. I invited her to join me for refreshments in a nearby establishment. Shortly after we ordered our beverages, she said that she needed to use the ladies’ room. 

She got up and walked away and I haven’t seen her since.

Dejected by this rejection, I decided to go back home. On my way out of the bar, I stopped to chat with the nice little waitress who had been kind enough to ignore my public humiliation.

That worked out a bit better because we are marking our 40th wedding anniversary.

It’s stunning to realize that we’ve been married for four decades. Both sets of my grandparents made it well past their 50th anniversaries. As a kid, I couldn’t imagine anyone living long enough to be married for half a century. Now that milepost is on the horizon.

Over the course of our marriage, my wife has faced more challenges than a one-armed man climbing El Capitan. 

The first one took place on our wedding night. We returned to our farm after the ceremony to discover that our cows had busted out. I instructed my new bride to hold the gate while I chased the cows and to flap her wedding dress if any of them tried to get past her.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” she retorted and stomped off to the house. 

Thus began the pattern of me attempting to foist foolish ideas onto my wife. Due to her boundless font of kindness, she has always forgiven my dunderheadedness. And through it all, my wife has remained my fiercest defender. 

A good example of this happened when I was trying to load a Holstein bull into a stock trailer so that he could begin his new job at McDonald’s. I was in a small corral with the bull and was using a pitchfork to try to convince the 2,200-pound brute that he should get into the trailer. My wife, who was pregnant with our second son, watched anxiously from just outside the corral.

The bull abruptly decided that he’d had enough of my nonsense. He put his head down and charged, tossing me high into the air. I somehow managed to land on the wooden corral on my way down. The bull glared up at me, bellowing and pawing. My wife screamed like a madwoman as she poked the bull with a stick. Realizing that he was dealing with a force much greater than himself, the bull retreated.

That is just a tiny sample of what my wife has put up with over the past 40 years. She has endured such a large number of difficulties that listing them all would consume several square feet of newsprint.            

One especially trying time was enduring the mid-1980s Farm Crisis. It’s the epitome of financial distress to learn that after years of hard work and sacrifice, you’ve managed to achieve a negative net worth.  

My wife suffered a miscarriage when our eldest son was a toddler. She was so certain that she was carrying a girl that she had begun to buy pink baby clothes at rummage sales. To this day, we might see a young lady of a particular age and think, what if?

I wouldn’t be alive were it not for my wife. In 1988, I entered a manure pit on our farm and was overcome by toxic gasses. I was taken to a local hospital where my family was informed that I had zero chance of surviving.

At age 28, my wife was told that she was about to become a widow with two young sons. Her fierceness aroused, she demanded that I be helicoptered to a larger hospital. She made the right call because, well, here I am.

Julie and Jerry's wedding photo
Courtesy Jerry Nelson

Julie and Jerry Nelson – March 21, 1981

The past 40 years have whizzed by in a twinkling. I could not have asked for a kinder, more generous, and more loving person to share them with.

What began with misfortune ended with me becoming the luckiest guy on the planet. And it’s proof that fairy tales do indeed have happily-ever-afters.  

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy          

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