The soft pump of the oxygen machine is ironically comforting as I hold grandpa’s hand. They are calloused but soft. He hates the fact that in his old age his hands are tender.
Rosco, the family dog (mostly his), stares at me with confusion. It’s been days since grandpa has petted him or fed him scraps from his plate.
It’s hard seeing this man, who once threw full feed bags over his shoulder, lying helplessly in a hospital bed. Parked in the center of the living room and hooked up to machines, it’s less than homey. Yet, this place has always been home to him.
I stare at his limp hands and recall the stories he has shared with me over the years. Tales of living in the Depression, corn husking parties, the many deer that ‘got away’ and in-depth descriptions of the dogs he has befriended over the years. Even though I have heard them hundreds of times, I long to hear them just one more time.
Being his only granddaughter we have a special connection. We like to make each other laugh and even have a secret hand shake.
He’s the guy who taught my dad the meaning of hard work so he could pass it on to me. He is the foundation of our small family.
Grandpa passed about 12 hours after I wrote what you just read; peacefully with his family and Rosco by his side. In the days that followed my heart was empty. Our family lost our leader and I lost my biggest fan.
Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech could have been written for my grandpa. I have never known a kinder man who led by example which is true for so many of our old farmers. Grandpa undoubtedly baled our family together.
In recent years Grandpa was too old to farm, but many memories were shared at the kitchen table with my dad and brother. Even though he couldn’t be out on the tractor (he finally gave that up when he turned 88!) he was reassured that things were getting done when planting arrived and harvest showed up.
“Time Has Made a Change in Me” by the Oak Ridge Boys was played at grandpa’s funeral. There’s a line that goes “Time has made a change in the old homeplace.” Grandpa saw dynamic changes to our farm and agriculture, especially with machinery and technology. Last year I witnessed his disbelief, as milkers automatically came off the cows in our milking parlor. Grandpa, who once milked eight cows by hand, was blown away.
The challenges our future farmers will face won’t be the same as what Grandpa saw in his 93 years, but they’ll be there. Whether it’s low prices or balancing caregiving for a loved-one and the cows, farming will always have its struggles regardless of the decade.
Losing a loved-one and farming share some similarities. It’s comforting to reflect on the memories and keep certain mementos. But it’s tough to look ahead. In the days that followed the cows still got milked and crops got planted despite our sadness.
Just because a heart stops, a farm doesn’t.
It’s hard picturing our family and farm’s futures without him in it.
As a farmer he knew how the seasons worked. On that late April evening, with another spring planting upon us, I think he knew it was his time to go.
My brother is the sixth generation on our farm. With the help of my dad he will continue to build on the foundation that grandpa helped lay.
Grandpa never said it, but his smiling eyes spoke for him. He knew his farm was going to make it another generation. He had fulfilled his legacy.
Amy Eckelberg was raised on her family’s dairy farm near New London in Waupaca County. As an active member of the Sandy Knoll 4-H club, Eckelberg grew up showing hogs and dairy animals at the Waupaca County Fair and was a New London FFA member. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2012. Amy is the Director of Communications for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and resides in DeForest with her husband.