Farmers work to put harvest on the done list

I vividly remember looking over the spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebook folded open on Grandpa’s farm shop bench. On the paper, he scribed a list of things to do in thick pencil lead and all capital letters. His distinctive, slanted, all-caps handwriting emulated the feeling of authority and speed with its raw, yet refined, formation of words.

With that No. 2 lead, Grandpa just as thickly crossed off items like “VACCINATE CALVES” or “SWEEP OUT THE BIN.” That strike of the pencil feels so universally gratifying among us. It’s like crossing the finish line of a 5K. Closing the door behind the last guest. Canning the last tomato of the season. Cutting the ribbon at our town’s new farm-themed playground. It’s done. Finished. Accomplished. Check.

This time of year, our family’s daily list says HARVEST for about 60 days. Sure, the heifers need fed and the bills paid. But for days and weeks on end, some of the men on our farm see little more than their bed, the windshield of a machine and each other. They don’t go to town. They rarely watch TV. Their hair grows until a rain-out allows a trip to the barber. And the social calendar is dead. They keep up on sports and news on the radio or smartphone. They see wives, kids and grandkids in the field, where they eat lunch and snacks out of a lunch box. We ladies make sure they have nightly hot meals, often with a side of kids and grandkids bearing baggies of treats.

If you need a crash-course in what it means to commit to a cause, just ride with a harvesting farmer or farm employee for an hour. Then, take that hour times 14 in a single average day. It doesn’t matter whether that person operates the combine, grain truck or tractor with auger cart, the story and the to-do list match: HARVEST. And so, does the goal: to cross it off the list.

We put that forceful, satisfying pencil line through the word HARVEST when the last corn stalk clears from the landscape. That moment re-energizes us, despite the drain of the previous weeks. On that last pass through the field, my dad usually calls Mom from the combine. He excitedly reports that the finish line is in sight. Mom warns to “pay attention.” She wants no breakdowns or the need to add “FETCH PARTS” to her to-do list.

About the author: Joanie Stiers, a wife and mother of two farm kids, writes from west-central Illinois, where her family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle.