The Quiet Irish Farmer

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Although it sounds cliché and trite, being a farmer is indeed a way of life. My father was a quintessential farmer. He was born on a farm and spent almost eighty years of his life on the same flat half-mile of country road. Most people don’t aspire to be a farmer; they are born one and die one. As a kid he worked the land of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, an Irishman from County Limerick. As dad aged, he prospered personally by working his own land for which he spent a lifetime cultivating…quite literally.

As farm children, we watched as our dad rose early, work the entire day and often return home after the sun was down and his body exhausted. Being a member of one of the oldest families in the county, he felt an obligation to serve his church and community. So after wearily returning home in the evening, he would clean up and spend many nights quietly serving on various boards.

Every Sunday, regardless of the amount of farm work that needed to be done Dad, would stop working for a few hours, and we would attend mass as a family. Our pew, the fourth row on the left, had Dad at the end seat each Sunday for over sixty years.

During his young years, Dad had a farming accident and lost most of his left hand. My mom said he did it so he would never have to change the diaper of any of his nine children. His handicap was never a deterrent. He could do almost anything and proved it day after day on the farm. Most of our childhood friends said years later that they never noticed he was missing a hand because he did everything so naturally. Once when a prosthetic salesman called the house to peddle the latest artificial hand, Dad politely explained he was not interested in something so “fancy” and thought the hand would only get in the way of farming.

The one thing he couldn’t do was pull off his work coveralls. Being a man of few words he would often come in the house at night, find a kid and say the code word, “Pull,” With this one word we would jump up grab the cuff of his sleeve and pull it off his shoulder. Even Superman had his weakness.

Dad had a commitment to my mom that was admirable. He was steadfast in his respect for her and the work it took to care for nine children. They had a typical relationship of those times with Dad making the living and Mom doing everything else. This meant we all spent more time with and consequently knew my mother better than Dad. The one final gift Mom gave us after her death was years of individual time with Dad. The last decade with him allowed us to know Dad as an individual and see the sweet man Mom married as a young girl in the 40’s.

Years of physical labor caused his mind and body to slowly age, but as with his farming accident, he downplayed the constant pain he endured. His stoicism and resolve amazed us as he struggled each day to do simple tasks.

During his final years he seemed clear minded and free of pain when happily riding out to the country to the family fields of emerald green crops. He could still recount details of his childhood and the many Irish families who once lived along the oiled roads of Little Ireland. Each visit included a stop at the family homestead, a second stop at the family parish and a final stop at the family cemetery to “See how Marget’s doing.”

Today Dad rests next to Mom in the family plot surrounded by ancestors and family fields. The farm that was the center of his life is now run by my brother. Dad was always quietly proud of the farmer my brother has become. And so, the family farm life that defined Dad’s own life has passed to his son who is the great, great grandson of the Irishman from Limerick.

Submitted by Sue Webb


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