SWHEAT GIRLS: SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
No trip is shorter or more meaningful in our family history and heritage than the one Suzanne and I took today. It is a mere 72 miles from my home; I could drive it with my eyes closed. Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, so we enjoyed the ride together. Gail wasn’t able to meet us there from her home several hours west of the farm. So we persisted—without her.
Today, we drove to our family farm to partake of the annual wheat harvest. I have only missed one harvest in my life; even a quick ride in the combine and/or the truck constitutes a visit.
That one harvest I missed was in 1991. I was spending the year in suburban Philadelphia, fulfilling a one-year contract as a nanny for a couple with a 2-year old girl and a 4 year-old boy.
I was between degrees, and leading a gypsy lifestyle. No real job, no real money, no real boyfriend, so I set out on an adventure. (That “no real boyfriend” became a real boyfriend when I got back, and eventually my husband. The story may or may not be covered in a future post. Stay tuned.)
Mom, in her trademark thoughtful style, knew I was missing harvest, so she sent me a card with several heads of wheat tucked inside. The kids and their mother were unimpressed, but the chemist father was intrigued. He sat on the patio with a head of this wheat, examining, feeling and dissecting it. After about 20 thoughtful minutes of inspection, he appeared to have a revelation:
“So this is what they mean when they say ‘separate the wheat from the chaff.’”
Therein lies the challenge. Keeping the good stuff, and letting the rest go. And I don’t mean literally, as in what Suzanne is doing in the picture below:
Most of us—myself included—carry around too much chaff. We hang on to useless, dirty, compostable refuse. We think we need it—and I’m not talking about material stuff, although that describes me, too. I’m talking about worries, concerns, stresses, hurts, regrets, sorrows, anger, illusions, fears and despair; you get the idea. We don’t need any of it, but we cling on like a life raft. Without them, we fear, we will sink. We won’t know how to function. They propel us forward, but only into a life of more misery; more of the same. We hang on because we have always hung on. Because it is now a habit. Because we don’t think we have a choice. Because we don’t even realize we are hanging on.
At the time of our parents’ deaths, our older sister Gail was owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town. She toiled long hours with little sleep for many years, churning out donuts and other sinfully delicious pastries. The glazed donuts were always the best sellers.
“I used to get so mad at myself if I made too many glazed donuts, or not enough glazed donuts, because they sell the best and I never knew how many I should make.”
Life changed for all of us after that day. We were hanging close and comforting each other in the days and weeks after. We took the time to open up and talk, trying to find ways to ease the pain.
“Now, I don’t care anymore about the ******* glazed donuts!” You have to know Gail to understand the full emphasis of the expletive.
The metaphor was obvious. In our heightened state of awareness, we realized, at that moment, that we still cared about other, equally unimportant glazed donuts. We had just been given a hard-earned gift, a tool of insight that would allow us to measure any stress against the one we were all surviving. In this comparison, every stress was as inconsequential as a glazed donut.
“It’s just a glazed donut. Let it go.” This became our mission statement. It still is.
Harvest is the climax of the agricultural year. The wheat that was planted nine months ago is ripe, and ready to determine the financial course of the next year. Some years, it’s a make-or-break proposition. It can be wiped out by hail, hammered down by high winds, flooded, frozen, or rendered nearly worthless by the Wheat Gods who determine the price.
Dad used to say that the farmer is the only businessman who doesn’t get to set the price for his product. Dad was a very wise man. Mother Nature and Uncle Sam are often ruthless relatives to deal with in one’s farming family.
On purpose, I didn’t marry a farmer. Neither did my sisters. One of our four brothers, as well as his two young sons inhabit our now 5th-generation farm. They, along with help from our youngest brother who also farms with his father-in-law, are capable stewards of the land that is part of our family heritage, and will continue to build our farm family legacy as my two nephews have shown a keen interest to continue down this path.
I am so grateful.
The home I grew up in is set to come down later this summer. Mold overtook it, and my brother, his wife and their three children built a new home close to it. The house that built me will always be in my heart, even after it no longer stands. Sticks and stones they are, but if they could, the walls would speak of sheltering this family of nine for four decades. They would speak of a family history warm with love, respect and kindness between the seven children and two parents who inhabited it for all those years. We had enough but not much extra in terms of material things. We always had enough love.
Suzanne and I arrived in the harvest field mid-afternoon, and stayed for several hours—long enough to ride in the combine with our nephew, and for a trip to the elevator with our brother.
The air hung still in unlikely Kansas style, with nary a breeze. The dust wafted straight up in small clouds and hung lazily. The sun beat down hot and hard when it came out, and I loved it all. I sweated, got dusty, dirty, scratched, greasy, stinky and fulfilled. And, when it was all over, I truly felt like a swheat girl.
Traversing the hills is part of the adventure. Hugging the right side of the road as the peak of the hill approaches is non-negotiable. The vista from the top is beautiful, but until you get there, you must assume there is a truck or a combine coming at you from the opposite direction. And, chances are that whatever you are driving, you are no match for either of those behemoth farm machines.
The roads often fork in this part of The Wheat State. Should you go left, or should you go right? Should you turn around? Or should you just sit and think about it? Sometimes the road more traveled appears to be the safe choice as below.
Or, sometimes it’s a 50/50 proposition.
So many decisions in life. Separate the worthless from the valuable, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff and the glazed donuts from the important matters. Get rid of the chaff, just like the combine so effortlessly does.
“After harvest” was the answer I frequently got from Dad when I asked him if I could have something—whatever material thing I thought I needed before harvest. It always depended upon the success/failure of each year’s cash crop. Imagine one paycheck a year, with no guarantee how big it would or should be, or if it would even arrive at all. Such is life on the farm. I learned to simultaneously respect and fear harvest, to love and loathe it at the same time. I am so glad my brothers and their families love it. Keeping our farm in the family is priceless, and I am forever grateful to them.
For myself, I decided to leave it behind. I swore I wouldn’t marry a farmer, and I didn’t. I never fell in love with one either, so who knows. But I never want to miss harvest. It is the culmination of one year of my brothers’ work, the annual peak of my farm-girl heritage. It is what our economic lives revolved around for my first 18 years.
More importantly, harvest is a symbol. It is the golden wheat, and I continue to learn to leave the dirty and useless chaff behind. The glazed donuts are no longer a part of my life either. Gail opened my eyes in her forceful, meaningful, expletive-rich statement, and I took it to heart.
Today, in the center of The Wheat State, Suzanne and I celebrate all that—as well as a golden day with each other. And, of course, with Gail and her donuts—or lack thereof–in spirit.
Thank you for reading my blog. My second-favorite holiday is approaching in two days, and I wish a safe and Happy Independence Day to all of you. Greater than that, may you make every day Independence Day as you leave the chaff–and the glazed donuts behind.