The Voice

Bumping along in the passenger seat of my father's 1965 GMC pickup, we saw lightning strike one of our pastures across the road. Dad slammed on the brakes, wheeled around and sped toward the fire.

We turned cattle out on this grass. No grass = skinny cows. Dad was subtracting numbers in his mind as the bluestem burned. His hired man lived next to the burning pasture. They grabbed some grain shovels and went to work.

At age seven, I took it upon myself to extinguish the burning cow chips by stomping on them in my rubber-soled Keds. Sacrifice your sneakers for the good of the family farm.

Boy up.

My father was not born into farming. When he landed in Rooks County, Kansas in 1948 as a teenager, it was as far east as he'd ever been.

Dad and his hired man would work the cattle on horseback. No cowboy, him. He rarely wore blue jeans and I don't remember ever seeing him in a cowboy hat or pointed toe boots. Khaki work pants, a greasy ol' khaki ballcap and lace-up work boots.

My father started a farrow-to-finish hog operation from scratch. Built a hog house on the western boundary of our farm (downwind) and was among the first in western Kansas to artificially inseminate swine. A little something he picked up at the land grant school.

I'd tag along when he was "fixin' fence." A freebie promotional canvas nail apron from the lumber yard with pockets full of horseshoe-shaped staple nails and a brown rubber-handled hammer he still uses to this day in his suburban Wichita garage workshop.

That's where the lightning meets the grass pasture.

Wheat, milo, pasture grass, cow-calf, hogs. Two horses and a pony. (There was no love lost between me and that pony -- more on that this summer.) A combine. Two tractors. Implements. A three-quarter ton dump truck, a state-of-the-art navy blue Harvestore granary. Land and capital-intensive. Debt inducing. Operating loans from the bank secured on a handshake.

Reminiscing recently, my father shared with me that despite the pride he took in his innovation, he struggled to get his head and heart around all the debt.

"One day, I was sitting on the tractor and I heard the voice tell me it's time to do something else."

Dad's instincts were pulling him toward more predictable economics. So he sold the farm, paid off the debts, earned a Masters degree in education at Fort Hays State. And In the summer of 1966, accepted a job teaching 7th and 8th grade science at Brooks Junior High in Wichita.

At one point or another, we all hear the voice. It's how we respond that shapes our lives. That's where the rubber meets the road.

That's where the lightning meets the grass pasture.

He was in his early 30's with a wife and three small children. There may have been order to this life, but there was not peace of mind. There's an enormous difference.

From the tractor seat of the red Massey Ferguson, the voice was telling him that selling the farm was a way to fulfill his responsibility as the breadwinner.

To step closer to peace of mind.