Mowing1_editedI live on the land my grandfather farmed for a good portion of his life. So whenever I’m outside I’m aware of the fact that the earth is salted with his blood and his sweat and I’m sure some of his tears. Pappaw was a man who prayed and a man who thought deeply. More than once I’ve caught him “prayin'” while he worked. I never spoke of it to him…it was just as much who he was as the hands with missing finger tips, lost working at the paper mill. That was the Pappaw I knew.

When my parents bought the land and built a house on it in 1986, my Daddy farmed it. When 1993 arrived and he suddenly found himself retired at age 54, he grew beans and corn. He loved to get out and work the earth early in the mornings. He’d get his “orders” ready and well before the heat of the day there’d be bushels of beans, freshly picked, and dozens of ears of corn–all waiting for the customers who’d be coming that day.

I heard Daddy say more than one time that working in the garden or yard was his time with the Lord. In fact, his favorite hymn spoke directly of that–

“I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The son of God discloses

And he walks with me
And he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own…
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.”

Daddy was a good farmer. He worked hard. He prayed hard. His crops–be they sorghum cane for molasses in the fall, or tobacco, corn, Shiitake mushrooms, beans or potatoes–always “made”. I tend to believe that’s due in part to the fact he was also a man of prayer who used his gardening or hoeing or harvesting time to catch up with his Lord.

The ONLY time I recall a crop failing was in the fall just before he got so sick. Daddy had raised sorghum cane all summer with the intent of making molasses one last time (we didn’t know it was the last). I’d pushed for it because I wanted MY kids to have the chance to learn what has become a lost art. I remembered the fun of the days growing up when we cooked down the cane juice. Friends and family came from everywhere to be part. Mom even let us stay home from school to be there. Daddy always “cooked off” the syrup–he had a knack for knowing when it was time to remove it from the heat and his syrup was golden, not dark like some. I can still see him holding up a jar of molasses, still warm with a light golden froth on the top, grinning widely and saying “Ain’t that purty?” He’d be there long before daybreak, grinding juice using the old grinder he’d bought and hooked up to a Ford Pinto engine, getting the fire just right, making sure everything was where it should be. I never liked the taste of molasses, but my lands I LOVED making them.

Back to the crop that year. One day just before we were to show up to make the molasses, early in the morning, Daddy called me. “Bethany, I’m not going to make these molasses.” he said. I was stunned. “Why not, Daddy? We’re all ready! People are coming in from out of town and everything!” His reply was “I was working down there yesterday and I was praying (remember–he always prayed while he worked in the garden), and I told God that if it wasn’t his will for me to make the molasses this year, to give me a sign. Later in the evening we had a storm. Every single bit of that cane is laying flat on the ground. It’s laying in such random patterns that there is no way we could harvest it successfully and use it. There’s too much damage.”

At that I said “But Daddy! We can cut it by hand! We’ve done that before–cut it by machete instead of machine!” “No, Bethany. I asked for my sign and I got my sign. I’m not making them.”

He stuck by that. We didn’t make molasses that year. We never made molasses again. I’d never seen anything he put his hand to fail before. He became more human and less Daddy in my eyes as I watched it happen. And by the next spring at planting time, it was obvious he was not ever going to be well enough to grow that cane or make the molasses again.

I’m constantly thinking of how I always used to view this plot of land–usually from a row, with a hoe in my hand OR a box of twine strapped to my back so I could tie up the beans so they didn’t run on the ground. Those times were hot and, to be fair, NOT fun. Setting tobacco was fun. Hoeing it, topping it, cutting it and handing it–not so much. Hoeing cane? ARGH. Topping, stripping and cutting it–not quite as argh but still not fun. Tomatoes, strawberries, squash…they all require tending in order to produce.

Why did Daddy love farming so much? The man had a degree and was a senior process engineer at BASF. He didn’t have to farm. We SURE didn’t need all the food he grew, although having a full freezer and pantry was a blessing. I gotta believe that when he was in the garden, he was with God. That those many hours he spent doing all that distasteful work (to me) were sweetened by the fact he was hanging with his Father.

So when I get on that big old mower, like today, and make my way back and forth across this plot of land which has been christened with the sweat, blood and tears of my Daddy AND my grandfather (and also that of my aunts, uncles, cousins and whomever Pappaw could find to work it), I sort of feel like I’m on holy ground. When I sing at the top of my lungs because I know no one can hear, it tends to be songs of faith. And when I stop singing and start listening…I can hear that same voice, calling to me and talking to me, reminding me I am his own…showing ME what to do and what to avoid…

And the joy WE share as we tarry there…none other has ever known.