The door bell rang; the man standing there looked like he might be in his late fifties. Tall, strong, his wife and son in tow. He asked for my Dad.
“You might not remember me, but I worked for you in the summers when I was a kid, on your farm. I rolled a load of hay, once. My name is…”
My mom and dad welcomed them in, and over the next hour, it was the late 1960s again. Old names, ‘do you remember…’, directions past landmarks that no longer exist. Coffee made, poured, drunk. Stories told. The perils of McCormack tractors; the difficulties of getting to town in those days. This man’s father had bought my great-grandfather’s farm, and for a year or so, had the best days of his life – his words. (Years later, one of my own graduate students would grow up, for a time, on that same farm, but that’s a story for another day).
It was a pleasant visit, yet it left my folks a little bemused. Forty years is a long time, and as they say, another country. But I could tell my Dad was pleased. After all, of all the things this fellow and his family could’ve been doing that day, they sought out my Dad. For whatever reason, it was important for this fellow to find my Dad, and to tell him that working for Dad was one of the best experiences he’s ever had.
It left me thinking. My Dad has farmed, he’s milled feed, he’s delivered pails of fuel to folks in the middle of the night to keep their furnace on in the dead of winter, he presses apples to make cider. He’s made his own work for himself all his life, worked for other people, and provided work for many more. It’s a family joke that we could be in the middle of Italy and he’d still run into someone he knows. He’s the kind of guy who knows everyone – or if he doesn’t, he soon will. He’s a man who’s made a difference. It left me thinking – am I doing anything that’ll cause someone to seek me out in thirty years, just to chat, to introduce me to their family?
I have no doubt that Aimee is, but I’m afraid I agree with her completely: so many more of us are just not stepping up. As a group, we’re awful, we male academics. This man didn’t seek out my Dad because he put himself out there. Dad just _is_. It’s how he’s chosen to move through life. Don’t be a jerk. Treat people with generosity. Don’t accept bullshit from others, but err on the side of believing the best of them. That’s all it takes.
It’s surprisingly hard to do.
(featured image by Gilles Douaire of the Gilpin Farmstead in Bristol Quebec, which isn’t that far from where our homestead was.)