The Things We Don’t See

My dad worked hard. He was a farmer, but that’s not all. In addition to the hours upon hours he spent working the fields, fixing and maintaining equipment, taking care of livestock, and keeping everything in an old farmhouse working well, he worked off season jobs to provide for us.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I rarely didn’t have something I really wanted. And I rarely saw his absence as a stressful thing. Hard work was just part of farm life. We all had jobs. To me, it seemed more like an honor to be able to help than a burden. I wonder if part of it is because I was the youngest, and getting to do “big kid responsibilities” was something I looked forward to. After all, I saw my mom and dad do things I couldn’t do, then I watched my sisters do things I couldn’t do, so by the time I could do them, I was ready and willing.

I loved taking meals to the field with my mom. She wrapped hot ham and cheese sandwiches in foil, so Dad would have something warm to eat. She filled a large mason jar with ice and brewed tea, placing a piece of wax paper over the top before tightly screwing the lid on. That way, it wouldn’t leak. I remember holding the tea jar and thinking it was freezing cold and holding the warm food and thinking it would burn me. We’d drive the old pickup to the field and sit a couple rows down from where he was. Sometimes he’d stop on his next round. Other times, he didn’t want to stop until a certain time, so we’d watch him work up and down the field.

He rarely took much time to talk. He’d quickly share with mom how things were going. Many times, he was stressed, and I rarely understood the details of what wasn’t working right or why the crops weren’t quite what he wanted them to be. But I loved the smell of the harvested crops and overturned soil. I marveled at how filthy my dad could get. I was always surprised by how loud the machinery was.

I understood things on my own terms.

I didn’t understand exactly how crops turned into money – money we needed to pay bills for months to come. I didn’t understand how stressful a broken machinery part could be. I knew time and money could fix about anything, but breaks seemed to come when both time and money were short. I didn’t understand how much my dad relied on my mom through those busy days, weeks, and months, how much more she had on her plate and mind. They seemed to handle it all in stride. I think if I had asked them at the time, they would have shrugged it off and said something like, “We’re just doing what has to be done.”

I didn’t understand at the time, because my little eyes didn’t have the experiences to see the details around me. As I grew up, I began to understand a bit more. I think we all do. We learn as we grow, and what we learn doesn’t just benefit our present. We begin to understand our past, too. And that helps us move into the future.

I’m still learning. I still don’t understand everything. I still don’t see everything. But I’m learning.And I’m going to work hard at learning. It’s in my blood.