02 January 2011

Sunday Open Forum – Mailboxes and Old Barns

By Emma

Money (what little we ever saw) seemed to have a pretty gentle, inoffensive presence in everyday life on the farm in the fifties. This was not a laissez-faire attiude: it was a chosen perspective that had strength and history. We appreciated what we had and didn’t think much about what we didn’t have, but it wasn’t until many years later that I realized how very little actual money was available.

There was no connection that I recall between the amount of money available and the quality of life in our home. My dad specifically trusted God, but he also had an earthy sense of humor about money that was sometimes expressed as “Money isn’t the first thing in life, but it’s sure ahead of whatever’s in second place.” Good years (good cattle prices and big crops) and bad years flowed together. Farmers only got paid one time a year (two times if they had beef cattle to sell). The other payday was when the wheat, our only cash crop, would be taken to the grain elevator nine miles away.

On a hot day in August Dad was up behind the garage tuning up the 6-foot combine because the wheat crop, a good-looking one, was ripe and ready to be harvested. Canvases are tightened. Belts are checked. Auger operation is tested. Looking good. And then, about 4 pm, perpetually rain-starved eastern Montana gets hit with a violent 20 minute thunderstorm with heavy hail. After the thunderheads dissipate over the horizon toward North Dakota, the combine looks a little embarrassed, all dressed up in John Deere green with nowhere to go. Dad walks out into the fields near the house, gets down on one knee and holds a broken wheat stalk in his hands. Then he gets in the truck and drives down to the far fields. Much later, when he comes back, he pushes the little combine back into its place in the line of machinery because the wheat is gone.

The combine isn’t needed tomorrow.

Now every morning at the breakfast table Dad would read from the Scriptures and we would sing a song from the little blue Danish songbooks. Then he would pray. The Night The Harvest Was Destroyed I wondered how he would pray the next morning. Was he disappointed in God’s failure to act? Or in God’s decision to act? Dad was never rude or demanding toward God (God being the sovereign king of the universe and all), but neither was he dishonest. So, of course, when he prayed that next morning he wasn’t either rude or dishonest–and he never mentioned the crop. Didn’t figure God owed him an explanation. And didn’t figure God had changed. So there really was no need to mention either the hail or the wheat.

One summer day when my parents were not home and I had been left home alone for a bit, I dared open the drawer of my Dad’s desk in the corner of the dining room. I was going to look at my Dad’s checkbook and see how much money we had.

I lifted the checkbook out and laid it flat on the desk. I took hold of the edge of the top flap, carefully lifted it straight up, watching for any loose paper or anything that might be dislodged and accidentally left out of place later, and then pressed it flat down and looked it over. There were no loose pieces of paper, so now it only remained to page through the ledger portion of the checkbook and find the balance.

Ah! I found it. The balance….was $656. I got so scared… because we had a great big house and 1200 acres of land and lots of farm equipment and a hundred head of cattle and a great big barn and two chicken coops and 3 tractors and a great big freezer in the basement…….how was it possible that we had so little money??? Then I remembered that he hadn’t hauled all the wheat into town yet! But still….will that be enough? For the clothes Mom couldn’t sew? For canned fruit? For flour? To buy coal to heat the house? To buy fuel for the field work? To pay to have the seed wheat treated (so it was bright pink before it went in the ground)? To pay the vet to come to vaccinate a hundred head? To buy the salt blocks the cattle needed? To buy oil and grease for the field equipment? To buy DDT for the big hand spray cans we used in all the outbuildings to kill flies and spiders and anything else that needed killing? (We bought it undiluted. By the gallon. Wonderful stuff, DDT.)

After I closed the checkbook, put it away and silently vowed to never, never, never again look at any of my father’s papers, I went outside and sat on the step for a long time and just waited for them to come home.

Now in our little country church, there were one or two elderly couples who “had money” and I had overheard comments about these people–neither unkind nor envious–just comments that made me know they were seen differently because they had lots of money.

Then I heard the word “rich” one day and realized it applied to those people. I couldn’t figure out whether or not it would apply to us because although I didn’t think we were “poor,” neither was I sure who was included in “rich.” Were people like these elderly couples the ONLY rich ones? Or were we perhaps “rich” even though we had only $656? How much money did it take to be rich?

As a child I sometimes asked questions I shouldn’t ask; saw things I shouldn’t see and said things I shouldn’t say, so I didn’t say anything about this for a long time. But finally, in a moment of courage, I did. “Daddy, are we rich?”

He hesitated before he said, “Yes, we are.” Another slight pause and he chuckled as he added, “—and some day, we might even have some money.”


We never did. But we definitely were.

119 Responses to Sunday Open Forum – Mailboxes and Old Barns

  1. AFinch says:

    I wish I could “like” this more than once. This is my favorite so far, Emma.

    • sundancecracker says:

      Agree completely. It’s Frilliant !!! Great Job Emma.

    • WeeWeed says:

      Ditto!! Thank you!

    • TXMom says:

      Thank you, Emma. Beautifully written.

    • emmajeri1010 says:

      Hey, you’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed the piece and thanks for saying so. One of the things I’m realizing as I think over the years and make word pictures is this: regardless of what corner we each grew up in, what our house was like, who our favorite teacher was….there ARE more of us than there are of them. That hasn’t been apparent over the decades, not even during the best of “the moral majority” years, I don’t think (which seemed to somehow reflect Jerry Falwell’s perspective, which is fine…but that had an inherently limiting effect on participation levels). We’re just beginning to speak up, say what we think and fight back. We’re acting on a decision that we will NOT, any longer, be ashamed of who we are or think that we are “less than” (some self-anointed elite). (Have you noticed they don’t like it much that we’re not as easily intimidated into silence as we were 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 20 years ago?) Thanks for looking at my pictures.

      • WeeWeed says:

        You are exactly right, Emma! They don’t like the “silent majority” speaking up one dang bit – that’s why they stay on the tea party like white on rice. Oh….that’s probably RAACISSSTT….

      • Menagerie says:

        Emma I needed this today. I’m having a very bad day, and your story is just what I needed to make me see what is real and important. Thank you.

    • Bijou says:

      Wonderful, Emma! Thank you!
      Once again, I see parallels between this experience of yours, and my own.

  2. Pat P says:

    I love this one, Emma.

  3. Patriot Dreamer says:

    Excellent article, Emma. Thank you!

  4. Patriot Dreamer says:

    IT’S JOBS, STUPID: DNC Chair Tim Kaine Admits Obama Was Too Busy With Wars and ObamaCare to Care About American Jobs


    What about that “laser-like focus”? We were told over and over again that jobs were Obammy’s priority. I guess maybe they got in the way of basketball, golf, vacations, you know, all those other important things.

    As for ending the Iraq war. President Bush did that, and he should be the one to get credit for it.

  5. Patriot Dreamer says:

    from Zimbabwe’s 2008 economic meltdown:

    Hyperinflation History: Visitors Snap Up 100 Trillion Zimbabwe Bank Notes


  6. sundancecracker says:

    On Saturday’s Fox News Watch, liberal FNC analyst Alan Colmes asserted that the Tea Party was a “bunch of angry white guys who went around and put up racist signs.” As a debate ensued pitting Colmes against the other three panel members, he later defiantly asked, “How many blacks did they elect?” leading Jim Pinkerton of the New America Foundation to fire back: “The Tea Partiers elected two – Allen West and Tim Scott, Florida and South Carolina.”

    Host Jon Scott began the segment by assuming that the liberal Colmes would not have any complaints about the mainstream media’s coverage of the elections. After Colmes voiced his approval of the media, Scott sarcastically posed: “For instance, the Tea Party. Tea Party always got favorable coverage, right? Or fair coverage?”

    Colmes then unleashed on the Tea Party: “Oh, they got, look, the Tea Party was a bunch of angry white guys who went around and put up racist signs at these at, these events on lawn chairs who had nothing better to do on weekends than sit on lawn chairs with signs suggesting Obama was a Muslim who wasn’t born in this country.”


    • WeeWeed says:

      Skeletor pi$$es me off everytime I even SEE him, let alone when he opens his lunatic pie-hole.

      • Bijou says:

        ‘Skeletor’…WeeWeed, you’re too kind! But very funny!
        (I always thought Maria Shriver was Skeletor. but I suppose there can be two of them.)
        Re Colmes, I have a visceral reaction to him and have to change the channel. Ugh!

  7. sundancecracker says:

    Graham: 2012 hopefuls all have their problems, but Romney probably best
    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was clear Sunday on what he wants in a 2012 GOP presidential nominee: “the most electable conservative.” But the senator was pressed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on specifically which of the current names believed to be in the ring would deliver. “Probably [Mitt] Romney,” Graham said.

    • Patriot Dreamer says:

      Of course a RINO is supportive of another RINO.

    • AFinch says:

      Heh, I suspect Romney would have preferred Graham to have endorsed another candidate.

    • PhillyCon says:

      Graham should be worried about his own re-election chances. Echoing Afinch, this is the last thing Romney needs when he is trying to desperately convince everyone he is a conservative.

    • Amsterdam Expat says:

      Miss Lindsey just planted a big wet smooch on the Mittwit’s face — but is this really the sort of endorsement he or any ‘Pub really wants?

      Maybe it’s a poison valentine …

      • WeeWeed says:

        No kidding, her “kiss of death” is nearly as good as the Won’s, the Lightbringer, the Head Kahuna, the Big Cheese, ok. I’ll stop…

  8. Patriot Dreamer says:

    Producers of the BBC show “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice” thought they could outwit some polar bears:

  9. AFinch says:

    Republicans promise to fight administration efforts to implement can’n tax through regulation:

    “Michigan Rep. Fred Upton tells “Fox News Sunday” that the Republican-led House won’t “let this administration regulate what they’ve been unable to legislate.” He says Republicans want to tackle the problem “in a reasonable way.”

    Read more: Republicans Plan to Fight Obama Pollution Plan