The story of one man's loss and his ability to carry on despite his heartache.
|The Price of a Parking Space
Gary Thompson is not your typical looking farmer. In fact, to look at him one might think redneck, hippie, biker, or just simply bad news. He comes by such comments a lot, although not to his face so much. He is a big man, muscular, and strong enough to carry an engine block with no mechanical or human help. And although he’s still a year from claiming forty, his long, wavy hair boasts a resplendent salt and pepper infused with a splash of cinnamon. Wrangler jeans and a checked shirt with missing sleeves was always his working attire. It never bothered him what people thought about his outward appearance. He has always known who he is and that’s something not everyone can claim.
A farmer by birth; the call of the land is what filters his blood. The feel of the land, the smell of the earth, and the way things grow give substance to his life. Something as simple as tiny seeds maturing into acres of waving grain, corn that seemingly reaches the sky, or the unmistakable aroma of just cut alfalfa fills him with awe.
The day it all vanished... a part of him did, too. He watched the pain in his father’s eyes, as piece by piece everything they had ever worked for, together, was gone with the sound of an auctioneer’s gavel. He felt his heart break, and thought his mind would, too. One by one, the cows were loaded into other farmer’s trailers and into large tractor trailer trucks. From off his land and on to another’s went his Holsteins and Brown Swiss cows. The Swiss were the most timid; the most gentle of all his cows. Their brown eyes seemed to look into his and ask, “Why?”
In the heat of summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the word, “Sold!” could be heard echoing from one corner of his manicured farm to another, as animals, equipment, feed, and alfalfa hay went to the highest bidder. None of the bids had come anywhere near what he and his father knew they were worth, but one by one they gathered name tags of the new owners names. The house was next to go. Many farmers had expressed their sympathy and their feelings of guilt for even being there, but Gary knew that auctions were their only way of expanding a failing business.
For him, it was the illness of a brother, the age of his father, and the inability to do it all alone, although he tried his best to the very end. Days on end with no sleep, twenty-four hours of hard work in the fields, the barns, the milking parlors, had in the end sent him to his knees.
Plunging milk prices set by a multitude of government bureaucracy and paid by local dairies had forced them out of business. Although his livelihood sold well below market value, somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped that some of these smaller farmers could hold on as the Co-ops threatened their existence as well. Generations of hard work, dedication, and love of farming was gone in less than eight hours. His soul had been ripped out and stomped on, and then handed back to him in pieces. Failure, degradation, and worthlessness filled the places where once there had been pride, accomplishment, and security. Most of all, the overall feeling of knowing he had been born to be a farmer left him asking, “What now?”
It was all gone now. That part that had been his life, his desire, his overwhelming sense of caring for something that gave back according to the type of care it received. Tears were the only thing left to show his dedication and love for something he no longer had, and most likely never would again. Words would not come, could not come, refused. The lump in his throat had stopped the simplest words from escaping. The man was silent.
He travels the country now, mile after endless mile to support his family. His father is gone, he died Christmas day. His brother sits in a nursing home. Complications from a stroke keep him confined there. Gary’s heart hasn’t accompanied him in this new life. His life lay in the land. His new life is monotonous and tedious, but it’s something he must do. It is the only other thing he knows how to do besides farming, and farming is what taught him to drive.
He is a man, was raised a man, and will die a man, with the accompaniment of dignity and pride to carry him through, and whether he recognizes it or not, it is still there. He could have thrown in the towel and taken his own life as others in his position have done before. Sure, he thought about it many times, but it was the love of his wife and children that carried him through.
Life away from the farm felt the way enemy territory must feel to a soldier. Unknown, bewildered, and beleaguered is how he feels in his new life. It is a far different life from the one he felt safe in, part of, and enjoyed more than the air he breathed. He knows no life beyond that of the land and what it gives back to those who know how to treat it with respect. Still, he must support his family: those who love him, pray for him, and depend on him. For a man who was never far from home, his new work keeps him away constantly, sometimes for months on end. “Family comes first,” he says, “They are my reason for living,” and I know it to be true.
It breaks his heart to travel the places where the earth is rich and planting resumes without acknowledging he ever left. Just to be able to jump into a tractor seat and take off, digging deep into the soil, smelling the richness of it beneath him would bring immeasurable joy to him. At this point in his life, he doesn’t care if it’s his tractor; any tractor will do.
“I’ll tell you the honest to God truth,” he says, “I would have plowed that field all day if the farmer had let me and I had a place to park my truck.” With tears flowing freely from the man who at one time rarely cried, he says, “I could have planted the entire countryside for the price of a parking place.”
To know the land is to know God and to know God is to love everything created by him. It is our duty to keep it nourished and well fed, just as it feeds us.
This wonderful man is loved by his family for all he has done against his nature to provide a home and some measure of living. He is my rock...he is my husband.