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Forty in the Field

By Anne Maxwell

Author of Grace in Ordinary Time

The first rounds he ever made in the field were in an Allis-Chalmers tractor in the early 1980s as soon as he could sit atop his Daddy’s knee.  

It wasn’t so much the steady rumble of the engine in that old tractor or the vibration of the implement behind the father and son that created the rhythm of wheel to ground, disc to soil.  Rather, it was the continual hum of decades gone by, the new verse of a familiar song sewn in the soil by generations before. 

My brother Justin was a farmer from the day he was born. 

He “tilled” the gold shag carpet in our living room with his vast collection of toy implements, taking great satisfaction in the deep grooves left behind. My mom potty trained him with the lure of a new John Deere combine toy if he bid his diapers goodbye, and he was promised a new alfalfa swather - or “swaser” as he called it - if he behaved when we went to visit our newborn brother Adam in the hospital. 

I’d learned to drive the combine when I was 16, and relished the chance to help in the harvest field whenever I had the chance. Once Justin was old enough to cut wheat, my days behind the wheel were over and I was relegated to the lunch crew. 

Justin was never more alive than when his feet were firmly planted on the ground anywhere on the farm. It was his heritage to be certain - three generations before him had made a living on the land. But it was much more than tradition. It was his lifeblood. 

He proposed to his wife as they watched the late December sun descent over the prairie my family called home. I remember asking him why he would propose to her in the “middle of nowhere.” 

His response? 

He wanted to ask the most important question of his life at his favorite place in the world. 

Nowhere was everywhere to the farmer in my brother. 

Farming wasn’t the only thing Justin was good at. He loved to learn. The desire to push himself in college and the pull of the professional world after graduation tugged at him. The dust settled on those boyhood days in the field and he ventured hundreds of miles from the farm to plant new dreams of his own. And yet, there was never any question where his heart remained. 

He often said, “I’ll be back one day.”

True to his word, he returned a decade later with family in tow. 

He’s been back several years now and I’m sure he would tell you it’s not an easy life. Anyone who watches the weather or commodities knows farming calls for nothing less than copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears. Yet, it’s a good life, and he enjoys tending to the land God graced our family with. I have no doubt he’s right where he belongs when I hear him talk about being back home, or I receive a text from him when he’s in the field. 

“Trying to keep up with the old man,” he wrote in a group message to me, my sister and other brother, Adam, on an afternoon in late August. He included a video of his rear view, which showed our Dad in another tractor, across the furrows. “It’s always special when we end up working together to finish a field. I’m 40. Hope to run till 75. Wheat every third year. So maybe 12 more summer fallows. Will always remember this one.” 

As his video continues the dust settles. The engines churn. And somewhere deep down inside that 40-year-old farmer, a little boy who used to sit atop his Daddy’s knee smiles with the knowledge he is right back where it all began. 

And where he was meant to be. . 

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