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By Julie Hurst
When our family gathers, it is for three reasons: 1) a birthday, 2) a holiday or 3) a meal. It can be any combination of 1 or 2, but always 3.
And when we gather, we pray. Often my husband Blake’s dad says the grace. He is a man rock-solid in conviction and integrity, a man who eased into flexibility late in life, coincident with the birth of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. But when he closes his eyes to say a blessing, his voice is husky with emotion; when Charlie thanks his creator for this family, this land, this work, this season of harvest, his gratitude wells up from deep within. The amens around the table, in a cornfield, around the Christmas tree or before fireworks are serious, heartfelt and unanimous.
This is ground zero for our family farm. Blake is a scion of a scion of a man and woman who survived the dirty ’30s without knowing they were survivors. Starting from nothing … again … was not unusual for that generation. Sturdy, stubborn, hard-working but also frugal, clever and forward-thinking, Blake’s grandfather and mother and then father and mother grew their farms and their families with one eye on the future and another on their bank accounts.
Experience can be a brutal teacher. Exuberance is not to be trusted. Optimism should be relegated to baseball. Blake and his brothers lived and breathed the family ties: the hierarchy, the expectations, the responsibilities, the fables and stories and oral history of the community, as well as the wet spots, rocky slopes, sandy points and gumbo of the land.
This sort of narrative, as wide as it is deep, is the real reason our country needs small places. I am reminded of this with every turn of the calendar to a new year, every Memorial Day that my neighbors show up for planter boxes of flowers to set out at the county cemeteries. I began my apprenticeship 37 years ago in a bitter cold Christmas season in the dining room of my future in-laws. The conversation was peppered with names resurrected from bygone farms and homesteads, with interjections and clarifications about who married whom, what year they graduated or where they were buried. I learned a mighty lesson that day: Time is a perennial in farm country, dormant perhaps, but long-lived.
This is the truth about small towns, the blasts from a past when what you didn’t raise yourself could be had at the intersection of two lettered roads. The rooted ones, the hangers-on, the folks with mailboxes that match their headstones — these are remnants of our national nature, the institutional repository of knowledge so arcane, it may as well be the Biblical “begats.”
We need to know this part of our historical culture still exists, to realize that satellite news, social media, technology micro- and mega- have not completely erased nor replaced the “deep geography” of our rural past.
(Julie Hurst, of Westboro, is a grower at Hurst Greenery and a member of Missouri Farm Bureau. Julie’s husband, Blake, is president of Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.)