In my last blog, Hibernation, I described how Danny struck up a conversation with the stranger seated next to him on an airplane. That was not an isolated incident. Danny has absolutely no difficulty talking to strangers anytime, anyplace. He can be filling gas in a convenience store parking lot, begin conversing with the guy at the next pump, and by the time their tanks are full, he will know where the guy’s third child went to college, what he majored in, and that the kid just returned from a backpacking trip through Europe.
Okay, I may be exaggerating, but only a little. I no longer allow him to accompany me to Walmart. I shop out of necessity, not as a social opportunity, and the quicker my Tahoe is loaded and headed back to the farm, the happier I am. When Danny is with me, not only will he stop and chat with everyone he knows (which is virtually everyone) but he will make new friends based on the fact that they use the same brand of shaving cream.
I want to make this very clear – I am not anti-social. Within my circle of friends and family, I’d like to think I can be fun, interesting, and quite pleasant. It’s just that my circle is much smaller than his. And I feel no particular desire to enlarge my circle.
And so, had I been seated for two hours next to the stranger on that plane instead of Danny, not only would I not have known that the man was a transplanted Midwesterner, I would not even have been able to identify him in a police lineup.
Because I learned long ago that if you wish to not speak, it is best to not make eye contact.
A few months ago, I had a longer-than-usual layover while traveling to visit the grandkids. But I was prepared to make very good use of that time. I had brought along a yellow, lined legal pad and my favorite pen with which I intended to compose my next blog.
I was seated at a table near my gate in the Denver airport with a man seated across from me. At that point, I knew no more than that. I began to write. I paused, re-read, scratched out, re-wrote, and composed for about ten minutes. Then I committed a significant error. I looked up from my pad to check the time. As my eyes moved upwards, I made eye contact with the man across the table who, I realized then, had been watching me while I was writing.
He immediately seized the opportunity. “Are you a teacher?” he asked with a friendly smile.
“A retired teacher,” I replied with an equally friendly smile.
“Did you teach English?” he asked.
“No, math,” I replied, keeping my answers as short as possible, with the hope of returning to my writing.
“Oh! I just assumed you taught English since you’re writing. Are you writing a math paper?”
Is it even possible to simply reply “No,” and politely end the conversation there? Of course not. I resigned myself to chatting. I clicked my favorite pen closed and put my legal pad in my backpack. I knew there were to be no more words written by me that day.
By the time I boarded the plane, I knew where he was from, what he did for a living, where he was going and why. None of this information had been solicited.
So, you may ask, what does any of this have to do with living on a farm?
Would you be willing to spend an entire week on the farm with only the companionship of non-verbal animals during the day and your spouse in the evening? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question, then please don’t become a farmer.
Would you be content to back your car out of your garage and leave the farm boundary only once, maybe twice, in an entire week? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question, then please don’t become a farmer.
Are your physical tasks, your natural surroundings, and your own thoughts enough to keep you happily occupied for an entire ten-hour day? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question, then please don’t become a farmer.
My dad was a farmer. And he was happy doing it. My mom, on the other hand, had a personality more like Danny’s. She was a social creature who craved and thrived on human companionship. After the last of her seven children (me) married and moved off the farm, she was alone too much and she lost her enthusiasm for farming. She told me more than once that if anything ever happened to Daddy, she would not spend even one night alone on the farm.
In this one respect at least, I am my father’s daughter. One of my daughters-in-law told me, “You know Mary Kay, if anything happened to Danny, we know you’d be okay by yourself at the farm. Our only concern is that you’d become a recluse out there.” When she told me that, I paused, thought about it, then nodded and said, “I can see that.”
But sometimes I worry, just a little, about the social butterfly that I married.
(There was a time, in my adolescence, when I was not happy being alone at the farm. You can read about it in the February chapter of my second book, Another Year on the Family Farm.)
Next Week: Merry Christmas from our Farm! (A Pictorial Tribute)