Why I like old farmers

Published 9:01 am Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I’ve seen them all my life. Country stores, barber shops, hardware stores, farm meetings. The old ones seem to have a way about them. Something deep and substantive, as if underneath those leathery hides there lay story after untold story. Their bodies are billboards of the past, windows through which a glance backwards unearths a fading way of life, like the road in a rearview mirror.

There are battle scars. Fingers twisted, broken, burned or gone completely as a result of clogged augers, errant hammers, tractor weights, combine heads and unruly livestock. They struggle to button a shirt or write a check, suppleness turned to rigidity. The skin is wrinkled like an old dishrag and covered with lesions of the past, effects of hours and days and months beneath a baking sun that takes first aim at the tops of ears, noses, cheeks and lips and works down towards the waist. These marks are not the result of leisure, but rather of that activity that was such a constant companion to that way of life it grabbed them when they rose from bed, enveloped them as the day unfolded and overpowered them by sunset. It was the essence of survival and the substance of life. It, in one word, was work.

Chopping wood, milking cows, planting corn, weeding peanuts, grubbing stumps, sowing fertilizer, shocking peanuts, curing hams, building fences. Activity after endless activity, interrupted only by darkness or death.

Their eyes have seen droughts and hurricanes, stinkbugs and boll weevils, hog cholera and shipping fever. They have seen the rear end of a mule all day long. Those hands have held the weeding hoe, the grubbing hoe, the axe, the cramming stick, the pitchfork and the grain shovel. They have handled newborn calves, buried one ton bulls and leveled four ton peanut trailers. Out of the pores of that skin have seeped a thousand gallons of salty, pungent sweat dripping onto soil they have come to love.

And there they sit. Rigid. Shoulders slumped over. Losing their hearing. Missing the conversation. Scratching their lesions. Rubbing their twisted, bony fingers as their back stiffens a bit more.

And, by God’s grace, I hope to be one of them one day.

REX ALPHIN of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His email address is rexalphin@aol.com.