The journey back home filled my heart with so many emotions. Still, visiting with my sisters and friends that I don't get to see often enough was deeply treasured. We reminisced of the good ol' days, laughing a lot and crying a little, all of which was very therapeutic.
Many of us crave the comfort, stability, and community our childhood home brings us. I know this holds true for me.
My childhood dairy farm memories are simple. Highlights include a game of baseball in the front yard; showing sheep, cattle, and pigs at the county fair; sorting cattle together; and more. The simple life that growing up on my family’s dairy farm provided stitched deep-rooted values in my heart and soul that have carried with me into adulthood.
Experiencing so much loss — my brother in 1995, my mother in 2011, my father in 2016, and my childhood farm in that same year — has been difficult on me and my siblings.
Dolly Parton once said, "Storms make trees take deeper roots." Grief is like one big storm. It can downpour quickly or linger. Experiencing this has made me stronger, more solid with my faith, and appreciative of all that I have.
Before we headed back home to East Moline, Ill., we paid our respects and visited the cemetery where my brother, mother, and father all are buried. The lawn sprinklers were going, and I told the kids, "Looks like it's bath day!" They giggled, but then immediately started crying, as did I. We weren't quite prepared for how many emotions would surface visiting our late loved ones.
Through tears, Cassie said, "Grandpa Bob was the nicest man." That he was, and I told her he would be so proud of how hard her and her brothers work on the farm and the people they are becoming. We said the “Glory Be” before we left and as we drove off, I smiled a bit because I know I was one of the lucky ones. Meaning, I had the best kind of parents that provided me with a simple life that certainly illustrated a lot of sacrifices, but also showcased a life of humility, hard work, commitment, honesty, and kindness.
We drove by my childhood farm before we headed over the mountain to fly home. It broke my heart to see a place that was once so lively— kids laughing, cows mooing, and the roar of the diesel engine tractor — to become so quiet. My parents took so much pride in our farm. My mother had a nicely-kept yard with an abundance of flowers, and my father was a top-notch irrigator and his pastures were luscious. We were always fixing fences or mending the place growing up, and as we drove by last week, we witnessed it all falling down.
Friends, everyone wishes for life to turn back to how it was. I certainly do. However, the lessons I've learned and the joy I have experienced from my childhood makes the pain all worthwhile.
Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.