July 11, 2006


I was upstairs sleeping when I heard someone at the garage door. By the time I got downstairs, our neighbor across the street was halfway back to his house. I called after him, and George asked if he could use our phone, since they don't have long distance service.

George is the epitome of a Midwestern American farmer. His kids and grandkids are everywhere in this town. This man taught me how to walk beans the summer I was 14. I was riding in his pickup truck over bumpy country gravel roads when the news came over the radio that United Flight 232 had crash-landed 45 miles away in Sioux City, IA.

More than a decade later, this man still helps out on the farm that was his for many years. It's his pickup truck my family borrows when we have hauling to do. He's the one who uses his snowblower to clear neighbors' driveways, edges their lawns for them (he's out there anyway, he figures; why shouldn't he do it?) and helps pull out stubborn bushes or trees with a chain hooked to his truck. I don't know how old he is, but he must be in his 80s by now - and his energy level puts my generation to shame.

He came over this morning to call a family member; he wanted his wife home, but he didn't want her driving at an unsafe speed. He got the news this morning that the brother he was closest to was killed this morning. Pete was 10 years younger than George. Though he gave the farm over to his boys last year, Pete said he'd still come back and help them out. He was there this morning driving a tractor when he got too close to a ledge. The tractor rolled backwards on top of him. It's possible that he had a heart attack and was already gone when the tractor rolled, but it's still an unexpected shock for his family.

It hit me hard because of how it hit George.

Don't ever make the mistake of thinking farmers are dumb hicks. They're among the smartest, most hard-working, and most reserved and controlled people I know. They think long and hard about things, and most of them have huge amounts of determination and capability.

This morning was the first time I've ever seen George cry. It wasn't sobbing, just tears making tracks down his cheeks and a slight quaver in his voice as told the person on the other end of the phone that his brother was dead.

We talked for a very brief bit, and he went back to his house to wait for his wife to get home. I went over later with Nathan to see if he wanted company while he waited, but he said he was fine and could take care of himself. He was courteous, but there was steel and decades of reserve behind the courtesy. He's a wonderful man, the sort that not only fought in WWII but managed land and family after coming home.

I'm glad I was home this morning, even if there was little I could do.

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