Sometimes I wish I could remember her name.
It was 5:21 a.m. and my wife’s cat clawed my toes to get me up, because he wanted to go outside.
I have no idea why we have a cat that is best suited to be living with a family of dairy farmers, people who LIKE being up at 5:00 a.m.
But it is what it is, and after I let the cat out, I laid in bed wide awake, with memories racing through my brain. Luckily, I seem to have gotten past that stupid thing I did in fifth grade, but plenty else rattled around to keep me occupied.
I thought about Wally Roselund for a while. He was a friend of my father’s, a lodge brother, and sometimes he’d come out and help on the farm. When I was about twelve, we were in the middle of wheat harvest. This was the mid-1960s, and at that time we hauled grain in a wagon, about 100 bushels at a time. When you got to the elevator, a machine basically like an escalator, you set a hydraulic jack on the front of the wagon, slowly pumped the handle, and lifted the box until all the grain ran out. It wasn’t fast, or particularly easy, but it was what we had. The day I remember, the jack was broken, and the only alternative was to shovel the grain out by hand.
Think shoveling snow, if the snow weighed four times as much and your sidewalk was six feet wide and buried four feet deep. I was whining, as only a twelve-year-old doing manual labor can whine, and Wally, although a remarkably kind and soft-spoken man, finally said, “And here I was, just grateful that we had an elevator.”
You see, when Wally was my age, the way he got grain under cover was to back the wagon into a shed, shovel it up over his head onto a wide board, where someone else shoveled it over THEIR head into the bin.
My guess is that method was even less fun than it sounds.
It was the closest thing to a rebuke I ever got from Wally, and it’s a lesson that’s stuck with me for over half a century. Sometimes, the work just needs to be done. My guess is the wagon jack was fixed by the next morning, but at that moment, the grain needed to go in the bin and no amount of whining was going to change that. The only thing whining would do was make the job worse and the day longer.
Remembering Wally made me smile, but then my brain jumped the tracks, the way it can when you’re wide awake in the dark. I remembered the only writing class I’d ever had. It was at least thirty years ago, a correspondence course on essay writing through the University of Minnesota. I’d write about 600 words, put them in the mail, and a week later receive comments from an adjunct professor.
At the end of the class, for which I received excellent grades, I kind of poured out my heart to the instructor. I knew I was a pig farmer from a small place, but I really kind of thought I was a writer, too.
It was scary to put such an audacious goal in writing. A week later, I received her advice and it read, “Good luck with the pigs.”
A few decades later, after a million or so words that people have paid me for writing, I should let that one go, but I haven’t. It was such a casually brutal thing to say, and there was no need for it. It’s something that’s made me careful about the way I respond to hearing other people’s dreams, because no matter how unlikely they may sound, they aren’t any more unlikely than my life. Sometimes I wish I could remember the professor’s name so I could update her on the accuracy of her advice, but I forgot it a long, long time ago.
Wally, though...Wally I’ll remember forever.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson
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