HOME Swheat HOME

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HOME SWHEAT HOME

Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.

Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.

All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.

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Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.

Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.

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The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.

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At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.

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Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field.   The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.

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I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi.  The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.

A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:

“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”

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Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.

Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,

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Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.

and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.

The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.

The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,

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Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.

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The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit

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Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.

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The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.

And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.

This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.

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My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.

Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:

 

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Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.

The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.

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At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.

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The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,

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The church we all grew up in,

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And our parents’ final resting place.

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Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.

I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.

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Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.

Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.

The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease.  Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab.  Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.

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Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,

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And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.

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Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.

I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.

I know where it came from.

Swheat.

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A TIME TO REAP

 

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A TIME TO REAP

It’s harvest time in The Wheat State again–finally.  The interminable cycles of  rain have relented enough to allow the combines to get in the field.  At least, for awhile until the next rain comes.  Harvest is typically finished by July 4th, but not this year.

My husband and I took a drive to the farm last Sunday.  I am incomplete without my annual visit to the harvest field.  He hadn’t been for a few years, so it was time. Neither of my sisters were able to go, so he was a willing substitute.

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We arrived shortly after they commenced cutting; the rains the night before kept them out of the field until early afternoon.  I eagerly climbed in to the combine when we arrived,

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then took a trip to the elevator.

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One field was finished shortly after we arrived, and for the first time in a long time–if not forever–I got to see the first swath into the fresh field.

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Independence Day is not taken lightly on the farm; my nephew added this symbol of American freedom to the combine before harvest.

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I cut some wheat to display at home before the combine got to it,

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and, as usual, my brother graciously gave me all I needed to grind into flour with our dad’s grinder.  We left the field dirty, dusty, greasy, sweaty and hot, but fulfilled.  The seeds that were sown last fall were reaped on this hot July day.  They did the work then; and they are doing the work now.  It is a labor of love for the American farmer; this I know from watching my dad and my brothers.  It is not easy work, but they would have it no other way.  It is more than a job, more than a career.  It’s in their blood.

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As I said I would several weeks ago, I went to Wichita earlier this week to celebrate a long-overdue reunion with my college roommates.

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It has been in the making for months; we finally pulled it together, and pulled it off. We threw most–but not all-caution to the wind, feeling the air and sky on our faces as we let the top down, let our hair down, and let it all hang out.

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It was  a fitting ride for four women who have stuck together for 34 years, four women who have suffered profound losses in each of their families, but remain tight with each other, with three of them catching the fourth when she fell.  They pick each other up, dust her off and help her move on to find joy again.

And move on, we do.  There is so much more life out there to live, and clearly, we are living it.  We have vowed to make July our annual reunion month.  We know, beyond the triteness of the phrase, that life is indeed too short.

We planted the seeds many years ago, and we continue to reap what we have sown.

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Two of the other three live in Wichita.  Tracy (bottom left) lives in Kansas City.  She and I left Saturday morning to return home.  We talked on the way, she told me she may call another college friend who lived on the way to KC, perhaps stop to see her.  “Maybe,” she said, “It’s too short of a notice, and I should do it another time.”

“Just do it now,” I told her. “This is the weekend for college reunions.”  It didn’t take much to persuade her, so she gave her a call.

She wasn’t available for a visit, but welcomed the call, and realized it had been too long since they had seen each other, which expedited the plans for a visit in the near future.

Coincidentally, this friend had planned to get together with two of her college friends the night before.  One of them had to cancel, but they vowed to make it happen soon.

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I should have made it happen sooner, but I am reaping another harvest next week.  I am traveling north with a childhood friend, I friend I see often throughout the year.  We are going to visit two of my friends who happen to live in the same city.  We planted the seeds of our friendship 12 and 29 years ago, and the harvest is more abundant with each visit.    By another coincidence–although I don’t think either one was really that, another friend of 33 years will be visiting that same city from her home three hours away while I am there, and we plan to connect.

I won’t be posting a blog next week; I will be busy with my friends, reaping what we have sown.  The harvest will be the best ever, but probably not as good as the ones in the years to come.

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Tracy arrived at our get-together bearing gifts, bracelets chosen for each of us with love, with a single word printed on each of them.  She knows us well:

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LAUGH, FAITH, ENCOURAGE, INSPIRE

May the seeds you’ve sown bring you an abundant and joyful harvest.

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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SWHEAT GIRLS: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

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SWHEAT GIRLS:  SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF

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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.’”

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Always.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Or, sometimes it’s a 50/50 proposition.

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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.

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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. 19554420_1759936490687934_7965154539688390526_n[1]

 

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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.