Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, not every place is pretty...)
In general, I get along well with my neighbors, partly because in most cases we don’t pal around together. You know, “Good fences…..” But I want to talk about an exception who became one of our best friends. Let’s go back to the start.
Bob. another neighbor, listed his farm for sale with us. I had not met him before as he lived in town and had help run the farm. Bob became a friend as a result. I had gathered that he didn’t have too many of them, so had not gone out of my way to seek him out. Bob had been a downstate lawyer and got interested in dairy farms, so he bought one and moved near it. He was not doing well there and needed to sell it. Partly, his problems were of his own doing. Farms run at long distance are rarely profitable, but he readily admitted that all his life, he’d been a son of a bitch to anyone who he did business with, also his family, which had something to do with the fact that he was on a second marriage and was nearly completely estranged from his children. Too late, he realized his mistakes – too late for his first family and too late to keep the farm going. Creditors were at the door and were not cutting him any slack; they’d never got any from him in the past, I’ll give hipm credit: he admitted this was no way to be and he openly regretted his past and actively worked to keep fences mended with anyone he met from now on. With me, he did. Thirty years later, our families are still in touch.
I had an appointment to show it and was heading down the road with a load of manure to spread before I changed clothes and met my customer. As I came to the corner, a car stopped and hailed me. I could see a ruddy friendly face. The window came down and out of his beard, he asked if I were Roland. It was my customer, early. So I asked him if I could finish this load and then I could be with him. That was fine with him; he understood.
We drove on over and learned a bit about each other. It seems I had met his wife 3 years before. They had operated a farm near the Finger Lakes, one that I’d visited on a wintry day. I remember a blonde ill-tempered tenant lady who was introduced to me as the tenant. She was not in a good mood that day. My customer, Evans, told me why. They thought they were supposed to buy the farm, only the owner had changed his mind and put it out for sale. I was one of the first to see it.
Now, finally, the place was sold and they needed a place of their own. Evans was handicapped, having just one arm, his left. Later on, after we knew each other better Cindy told me about it: he had been picking corn and the picker jammed. He did not shut it off before he went to unjam it and it sucked him into it, slowly eating away at his arm while he tried to pull himself free, the arm came off before his body went it, so he remounted the tractor and drove home, using his feet on the brakes to steer it while his left (ie – as in “remaining”) hand tried to staunch the flow of blood. He got home, shouted for Cindy, and when she appeared, then he fainted.
Although he had a prosthesis, he rarely used it. In fact as the years wore on, he stopped using it. He mostly did crop and mechanic work and let others milk. Milking was the only thing he could not handle one-handed. I don’t know how he managed the other stuff, but he did,
Evans proved to be a great neighbor. First, he liked a good joke, which is always a good start. He told them well and listened avidly when I had one to tell him, his red face breaking into smiles and laughter no matter which of us told the joke. Cindy did not see the humor and rarely smiled. She made few local friends, was lonely, and after a few years, the marriage was over. Evans made a much better neighbor than a husband. He’d work like a maniac when it needed doing and stop in the house expecting a meal to be ready when ever he found time for a short break, not that she had been warned just when that might be. They did nothing together other than work at different jobs in different places on the farm; of course she was lonely. Always ready to help out if we needed help, he treated us better than he treated her. She was his second marriage.
We were always concerned that if he helped us we had to reciprocate in some way. It had to be fair, not one-sided. In the first years, we often chopped together or did things for each other. But the scale of his operation was three times ours and was only to grow in years ahead, so that became harder and harder. He often loaned us machinery to get us over a hump, but rarely borrowed any from us. We each knew that if we broke something we’d return it repaired properly.
The first few years, we shared a set of chisel plows. Neither of us owned them.. It seems Bob had failed to make payments on them (there were several items such as that). We had not idea who they belonged to, but since there were taking up space sitting there, Evans decided to put them to use. And did for 5 years until the finance company finally figured out where they were and came to repossess them.
While plowing with an extra set he had, I busted one coulter, so I went to John Deere to order a new one. They had trouble locating it in their system but we finally settled on what had to be the right one. A week later it arrived and when I went to put it on, it was all wrong. Back to John Deere. The same thing happened with the next coulter they brought in. Now I began to get worried; I wanted that thing working correctly in case he needed it. But I had to go with my head hung down and explain that I’d busted it but wasn’t able to repair it, none of the John Deere parts fit.
He laughed and laughed. “That isn’t a John Deere plow; it’s a Ford!” What? It seems he’d once had an argument with a Ford dealer and, pissed off, painted it JD green. So that’s why they couldn’t find the serial number. Well, he was red-haired and prone to short fits of temper, though never to us. Ford had the part in stock.
Another time, I’d hired him to do some Fall plowing for me and he had tractor problems, which resulted in a tractor not working and very stuck. My own tractors would not budge it. So he went home for his 2+2 to pull it out and out of the way so he could get it repaired. A 2+2 is a huge articulated tractor (bends in the middle), designed to pull huge tillage equipment. It is too big for much else. But his was leaking oil pretty fast so when he got the smaller tractor out, he asked if he could leave on the lawn for a few days until he could fix the leak. Of course, I agreed.
Then I got an inspiration. This would give him a laugh. I went and got my hay rake, a very lightweight piece of machinery that could be run by a lawn mower, if it only had a PTO. And hooked it up to the 2+2. Wait until he sees that.
I didn’t see him when he fixed and removed the 2+2, so the next time I did, I brought it up. He told me he’d heard about it before he got to my house. He was at some tractor dealer’s and heard some farmer disgustedly say, “I went by a farm the other day and that dadburned fool had been raking hay with a 2+2. How dumb is that?” Our laugh together was just that much greater. They looked absolutely hilarious hitched together, but I never dreamed anyone would take my joke so seriously.
Since our equipment sharing was growing more one-sided as he grew his operation, we looked for other ways to assist. Since Cindy was gone, we had him over from time to time for a real meal. Or Janet would bake him a pie. God knows what he ate when alone.
She would always bake a pie when our daughter returned to college. One evening, three hours after she left to return to school, she called, embarrassed. It seems the pie failed to arrive. I asked a couple of questions and we decided she must have put it on the roof while she was loading the car, then drove off, forgetting it was there. My college roommate did that once with his entire semester’s notes, so I remembered the incident well. Oon that hunch, I drove down to the same corner, where, since there is little traffic, she probably had failed to make a complete stop.
There it was, on the road. no cars had come by in the last three hours. The pie was damaged, no longer pretty, but it was clean, thanks to the plastic bag, and perfectly edible. I look up at the corner and there was Evans’ combine; he’d been combining some of my corn. I took the pie and sat it on the seat in the cab. Just left it there with no explanation. A couple of days later, I went over to pay him for the work and ”happened” to mention that I’d lost a pie. Grinning, he said he’d found a pie plate, but there was no pie in it – any longer. That pie was eaten while he was combining, saving him a trip home for lunch.. I have no idea how a one-armed man could eat a wreck of a pie and combine at the same time, without eating utensils. He did, though – and loved it. Janet makes a very good pie.
We’ll tell the end later on.
Some are merely amusing, some can be an immense help. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)