Friday, February 14, 2014

Grandpa is here, on the farm.

Valentines day has always seemed to be a fabricated holiday to me - like many holidays in the US it has it's roots in tradition and yet has become all too commercialized. The day - Feb 14 - has more meaning to me because it is the shared birthday of my grandparents, Fred and Ruby Bergschneider. This coincidence is fitting because for much of my life they have been the example of genuine love, something they shared with each other and their large family.

me (high school) with grandpa (in coveralls) & grandma
Grandpa passed away in 2008. This year, my grandmother turns 85, and grandpa would have been 88. He had a hard battle with Parkinson's in his latter years which was especially difficult for him because so much of what defined grandpa was mobility and thought; he was by far the hardest working man I knew; often up before the sun and working long into the evening, when he'd close up the coin laundry he ran with grandma and come home to fall asleep in his big easy chair.

Grandpa loved to work, loved to farm, loved being outside, and loved helping people. He was an engineer for the Marines in WWII, returning to marry my grandmother and start a family. He got into farming first as a hired man and then farmed for many years in Waverly Illinois, raising beef cattle, pigs, corn, beans, and wheat, and grew lots of their own food in gardens. The whole family, which included 8 brothers and sisters have a range of stories about their time on the farm.

At the farm here, Grandpa is everywhere. I can't help but think of him often as I putter about, taking care of fixing this broken pipe or troubleshooting a problem. His ethic, one important to my father, was that it was better to take a bit longer but do the job right, to the fullest. Also strong in me is a willingness to think hard on a problem, racking my brain and trying to come at it from many different angles. Collaboration and teamwork was also key; something my dad and I do all the time; spending long hours on the phone diagnosing problems, a pattern my father and grandfather often did.

In many ways Fred was my father's best friend. The relationship grew from a mutual interest in electronics, construction, and working with you hands. My grandfather become a healing force in my dads life; his father had been the polar opposite of a loving, supporting person in his life. Besides my grandmother, I think my dad spent the most time with Fred out of anyone in the family - mostly because grandpa was always out working on this or fixing that. They two formed a strong bond and when grandpa passed away it hit my father really hard. Grandpa was a big part of my fathers healing from an abusive childhood, and Fred was able to be both a father and a friend.

the water-moma.
When I lose someone from this world I often commit to serving in their image as I go about my work. As I've gotten into farming and working with the land, my dad and I have continued the working relationship he had with grandpa and we've worked on many projects that grandpa would have loved to help with. My dad and grandpa worked on a unique project long ago in Illinois - an automated monitor that ensure that grain in storage would not get too humid and thus go bad. This invention made grandpa a valued local member of the farming community long after he stopped farming himself. He (and my father) continued to fix electronic farming equipment for many years.

The grain-monitoring invention was named "Grain-Moma" with the idea that the device watched over the grain much like a mother watching over her children. In this image my father and I have developed many things for the farm here including the duck-moma (automatic duck door), pump-moma (shuts off a small DC pump when a tank runs dry) and water-moma (flashes a red light when our rainwater tank is low). Since I interact with these on a daily basis, I am constantly reminded of him, and of the working relationship of father and son that I value as much as my father and Fred did.

In the colder winter months many mornings I am called out into the cold to care take for the animals, letting them out and bring fresh water and food to their troughs. Many of these mornings I slip on a pair of coveralls - more or less an insulated body suit which keeps one super warm. I got my first set of coveralls when I was 6 or 7, wanting to be like dad and grandpa who I always saw wearing them. At that age I used them to keep warm while sledding or building a snow cave. Now it's a necessity to keep up with farm chores and spend long stints outside boiling sap or moving things around. I remember grandpa once saying that all you need to keep warm is a hooded sweatshirt and coveralls. I remember this every time I get ready to go outside.

Another time I remember him is when I put on a button-down farm shirt as a layer and inevitably find myself stuffing screws, receipts, and other random items in the breast pocket. This was grandpas signature wardrobe item; always with one (or both) pockets stuffed full of notes, papers, glass cases, and who-knows-what. I was always amazed at how much he was able to fit in there without it all spilling out.

The final time I think of grandpa (and grandma) is each summer when we put food into storage - especially corn. Illinois after all is part of corn-central USA, and one of my grandpas strategies during the summer was to order a truckload (literally) of sweet corn when all the grandkids were around and we'd help shuck it before it was cut of the cob and put in bags for freezing. Grandpa always had a task for a willing person to do and I was always up to help - I loved sitting on his lap and mowing the fields with the old tractor. I loved holding tools and helping weed in the garden. To spend any meaningful time with him, you had to be willing to work on a project. That was what he did with his time, day in and day out.

a place to remember our ancestors in our home.
As Liz and I build our ideal farm and homestead we are in many ways returning to a sense of life that was a necessity for many people in our grandparents generation. We return from choice, both because we enjoy the lifestyle and because we love knowing where our food comes from. I like to think that if grandpa was alive and able these days he would come out to OUR farm and help us with OUR projects. And he'd love it.

So, Grandpa is here on our farm, to stay. As we go about our lives Liz and I try our best to hold and remember the wisdom and love we experienced with our deceased grandparents Fred, Martin, Annette, and Irene. We live in the passion and the moment as we witnessed in Dale Bryner, Collin Anderson, and Chris Dennis. And as we do this we hold the idea that these people who have left the world as we know it can live on forever in the way we live; that we can remember their gifts and bring them into our daily existence.

Happy Birthday to my Grandpa Fred and Grandma Ruby!