When I told him that my husband and I had a dairy farm, he instantly went down memory lane, shaking his head as he said, “I loved visiting my grandparents in the summer, but man, it was really hot putting hay away at the top of the loft.” Like most of the memories I hear, I knew exactly what he was saying.
Our family farm was started by my grandfather. Even though my parents were the owners during my childhood, Papa was still interested in our daily lives, aside from the different jobs he had to keep him busy.
I have great memories of Papa and our dairy farm. He worked for a nearby tractor dealer, selling and maintaining farm equipment, including Acorn barn cleaners. That is a blast from the past, and if you ever owned one, I am sure you groan like my husband does every time we mention the Acorn barn cleaner. It was a great piece of equipment when it worked, but when it decided to cause havoc, it usually did so in a labor intensive and difficult manner. It loved to break down at the most inconvenient times. I can still picture my grandfather leaning over the motor trying to figure out what problem had arisen.
Papa was good at fixing things. Mama called him her “fixer man,” as he could fix or build nearly anything. He built the house they lived in after moving off of the farm, he built a fancy stone fireplace and grill for my grandmother, and he built me a pair of stilts so I could clomp all around the farm.
Evidently, when I was quite young, I liked to walk off with his tools, and of course, I would let them lie and he would have to go find them. Because I was so busy helping him lose his tools, he named me “Busy Lizzy.” I don’t remember him getting irritated, but I do remember him finding things for me to do throughout the years he was with us. Maybe this was to keep me out of his toolbox.
During his time as an auctioneer, he would hire me for the day to run papers for him. My mother and my aunt would document who bought what item, fill out a paper with this information, and I would take the paper from them to the teller. The teller made sure to have the right information when the buyer was ready to pay. Getting paid a quarter a slip doesn’t sound like a lot, but to this young entrepreneur, it was a way to collect some money. I am certain, though, that I ate through twice as much money at the food tent on sale day than I earned.
Papa also employed me to make the best chocolate cake that he ever tasted. Mama was a spectacular cook that made everything taste delicious, but for some reason, I was the only one that knew how to make a double decker chocolate cake that was good enough for Papa. That boxed cake with store-bought icing brought me $10, which was a huge jump from the quarter-a-page days.
I didn’t get a huge bank account from his projects, but Papa made sure that I had opportunities to learn life lessons, keep busy, and do something useful for others. That theme of keeping busy and being useful to others lives on in what I do today.
There is a particular habit I know I did not pick up from Papa. He could not and would not drink milk. Yes, he was a dairy farmer and milked cows in his early years, but for as long as I remember, he did not drink a glass of milk. He was known far and wide to put water on his cereal. He loved Sugar Smacks and had a bowl every morning, but not with milk. I am pretty sure he had his three dairy servings a day with the amount of butter and ice cream he consumed, but unfortunately, he never reached it with milk.
Papa was a fixer man and he passed that passion onto me. Fixing things and putting things together has always given me a sense of accomplishment. My tool set is complete enough to do minor repairs and put things together around the house.
I enjoy trying projects, and it is a nice sense of accomplishment for me when I get something done. I can’t guarantee that it looks exactly as it should or that I haven’t used too much duct tape — that might be why I am rarely called upon to fix things on the farm. Plus, I still have a bad habit of carrying tools away from the toolbox and forgetting where they are.
I have no idea how it happened so quickly, but Duane and I are now at the stage that we are the “grandparents” that our grandchildren visit. Like all grandparents out there, we want their visits to the farm to provide valuable lessons, a passion for what we do, and an opportunity for them to create wonderful memories. Maybe it’s not in the tippy top of a hay loft, but wonderful memories are made all the same.