Column: Dad’s second jobs taught this farmer’s kid

By: 

Roger VanHaren

Ten years or so ago, I read a poem called “The Poem Where I Say Thank You” by Jack Wiler. I don’t recall the entire poem, but one line the speaker says has stuck with me all these years. The speaker mentions “a farmer who has a second job so he can afford to bring in the hay each summer.”

My dad had a number of “second jobs,” most of them full-time jobs, which he worked in addition to doing his regular full-time job on the farm. Some were seasonal, like working the night shift at the canning factory, or unloading pulp cars at the paper mill. Hard, physical jobs. He worked at the Sankey Dairy, and he worked in the quality control lab at the paper mill.

He worked those extra jobs so he could afford to be a farmer, the job he loved — his “real” job. Being a good farmer meant having the money to hire Carl Milchner to come in to thresh the oats. It meant having to have enough money to keep up to date with the sanitary requirements to run a Grade A operation for the Morning Glory Dairy Cooperative: bulk milk tanks, cleaning chemicals, milking machines, etc.

Being a good farmer meant having enough money to pay for the breeding and registration of the cattle, having the equipment to harvest the crops — the tractors, binders, silo-fillers, manure-handling equipment, etc.

For my dad, it meant having the extra money it would take to assure that our family was well-provided for. It also meant that my mom had to do a lot of work around the farm in order that he could occasionally sleep. It was easier for Dad to have two jobs in the winter because there were no crops to be concerned about, but farmers don’t really have any “easy” seasons. There was always a lot of equipment maintenance and repair, making firewood, etc., and there was always the milking, morning and night.

So Dad worked a second job. Why? Because he loved being a farmer, and that was the only way he could do it. He cared about the farm, the animals, the soil, the water. I’m sure he must have gotten frustrated sometimes, but he did his work uncomplainingly and seemed happy all the time. Even with not much pay and no benefits. I think he was building a foundation for me and my sister if we ever wanted to follow in his footsteps, but when we decided that we didn’t want to do that, he encouraged us to get an education and follow our dreams, not his.

The farm on Konitzer Road was where my dad grew up and lived most of his life — right across the river from the paper mill where he worked so he could continue to work at home. The farm as we knew it is gone now. It’s no longer a dairy operation. All that’s left of our farm is the house my parents built in 1946, the garage, and the machine shed. I drive by it every time I’m in the area, and in my mind’s eye, I see the silos and the barn he built. I see the cows, the pigs, and the chickens. I smell the soil and the new-mown hay, see the oats crop turning golden, hear the cornstalks rattling.

I tell people I’m a farmer’s kid, my dad was a farmer, and sometimes they laugh. A farmer!

That’s me — a farmer’s kid, and darned proud of it, too. “This is the Poem Where I Say Thank You.” Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.