Monday, March 3, 2014

Life, Death, Family, Work

This week before St. Patrick's Day, it seems only fitting that I tell you about an Irish wake.

My Uncle Louie died last week at 91. A WWII vet, he was a member of the Greatest Generation, my dad's older brother, and the last surviving male among 13 siblings, all born in rural South Dakota.

The photo below is of family and friends after the funeral in Sommer’s Bar, in Miller, SD. Actually, this wasn’t the wake (the photos from that are not appropriate), but more of an “after party.”

The TV was tuned to the Weather Channel, where the talking heads prattled on about Winter Storm Titan. (Apparently, blizzards have names now.) “Titan!?” groused a guy at the bar. “What the $*&% are they talking about? It’s called winter, dammit.”

Miller is such a small town that you could walk up to any farmer in the bar and strike up a friendly conversation. Almost everyone knew my uncle and my dad, who died in 1997.

Anyway, there are two points to this story of life and death on the prairie.

First, family. There’s nothing like a funeral to clarify things, like how important the love and support of your family is. Without family, success at work means nothing. Nothing.

Second, work. On the drive back from South Dakota, recalling conversations with family, friends, and neighbors, I realized how remarkable the typical farmer is.

And it’s clear why Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God.” Farmers are the hardest working, most resourceful people in America. Most of us can’t imagine laboring half as hard, solving half as many problems, and producing half as much good for the world as those who work the land.

The next time I’m tempted to curse a slow computer or a printer out of ink, I’ll remember my uncle driving a horse-drawn wagon through a blizzard at age 12 … my grandma giving birth to and caring for 13 children … my cousin losing his left arm in a thresher at age 5 … and I will shut up and work.

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