Constable: Harvesting a bit of guilt as I break the family farming streak
We all agree Monday was a holiday, or at least a day without mail. My calendar said it was Christopher Columbus Day, in honor of the 15th-century explorer. It also said it was Indigenous Peoples Day, in honor of the first humans to live in North America.
And my expanded calendar said Oct. 12 was Farmers Day, which is a personal holiday for me. My dad was a farmer. My grandfather was a farmer. My great-grandfather was a farmer. My great-great grandfather was a farmer. Their ancestors back in Europe might have been farmers, too.
I broke that streak. I would have been the fifth-generation farmer on our Indiana family farm since the 19th century, if I hadn't become a first-generation newspaper guy.
Part of me feels guilty about that. The family part of most family businesses doesn't make it to a fifth generation. The pandemic hardships have forced some family businesses to give up plans for a new generation to take over.
But my dad, who died in 2003, told me he knew early on that I wasn't going to follow in his footsteps.
He spoke with pride about how he took a man's spot on our farm's threshing team when he was 12 years old, feeding shocks of wheat into a steam-powered threshing machine to separate the wheat from the chaff, and then throwing the bales onto a hay wagon. When I was 12, it was all I could do to lift a single bale of hay.
I helped Dad as best I could around the farm, delivering silage to hungry cows, driving tractors, picking up rocks, mending fences, hauling grain to the elevator, changing tires, mowing, shoveling corn and soybeans, and even planting the corn one year when he hurt his back. But when something broke, I didn't possess my dad's ability to fix it. He could tell my head and heart weren't in farming.
My dad loved farming. Being his own boss, he made all the decisions about how and when to work. He'd work late into the night at times, and he also took off in the afternoon on some days to catch one of my baseball, basketball or football games. He loved "driving the acres" just to catch the first day that his corn or soybeans popped through the surface of the black dirt.
I miss the smell of dirt and diesel fuel. I miss watching the storms roll in from the west and figuring out if I had time to do one more round in the tractor before the rain arrived.
I drove to the farm last weekend, during harvest season, and walked out into a cornfield on our land, which we rent to our nearest neighbors. It brought back memories of when I drove the combine that cut the cornstalks, ripped off the ears, created incredible amounts of dust and noise, and left me with a hopper of golden corn.
One of my favorite parts of the harvest was watching the ring-necked pheasants, often more than a dozen, run between the rows ahead of my slow-moving combine. The best feeling for my dad was knowing he created all of it out of a few bags of seeds, using his know-how, science, skill and a little luck to work with nature to create a bumper crop.
We talked long ago about how I do something similar by taking a few facts and anecdotes and turn them into a column, but it's not the same. I appreciate my farming roots, even if they didn't take root in me.
But I take some comfort in knowing that our three sons will never feel a touch of guilt about breaking the one-generation newspaper lineage established by their mom and dad.