The day we moved into our very challenged farmhouse full of deferred-maintenance issues, a neighboring single man (about our age, just barely 30) showed up to help us unload the U-Haul. I had not been included in the process of house-shopping due to time and travel constraints, and now the sight of this dump of a house made me want to cry. To move into rooms with peeling wallpaper coated with black, oily cobwebs seemed nothing less than a nightmare. Where would I put the kids to bed in the midst of such mess? No heat in the upstairs? Dark, rusty stains jeered from the sinks, toilets, and tub. “We’ve bitten off more than we can chew,” I thought to myself. But Dick’s bright smile helped ease my tension as I walked through the dilapidated structure, assessing what we’d bought: a whole lot of potential, but not much else.
“Where do you want this table? How about these boxes?” Dick spent the day with us, unloading the truck. We invited him to join us for dinner, what would be the first of many such meals. I soon discovered we had some basic semantic differences.
“Stay for dinner?” he grinned. “Well, dinner’s already over…you mean supper!” His evening meal was called supper, ours was called dinner – but to all of us it was the same thing, a chance to sit down together and share a little segment of the day after work was done.
That night when I went to bed on a bare mattress with blankets and sheets still packed away in boxes, I thought, "Well, that was sure nice of him…” Little did I know that he would also show up the next day to help clear the yard of litter; evidence of more neglect. The third day he appeared wearing the same broad smile to assist with work on the well pump. At the end of two weeks, I stopped counting days.
You get the picture. We were in the process of carving out a lifestyle in this place, and Dick was automatically part of it.
We’d purchased 25 acres of creek bottom, an old brick farmhouse, a big barn and several smaller outbuildings. Our property had been split off from tillable acreage by Dick’s uncle who had been renting the barn and pasture to his nephew for several years. Dick’s cows and calves bellowed their greeting to us periodically with their unusual brawls; our kids thought them a delightful addition to our new country home.
“We’ll see…” my husband said. “Maybe in six months we’ll ask him to leave.”
Six months came and went, and that proposition was no longer an option.
For what seemed to be not quite obvious reasons, Dick adopted us without question, and we adopted him right back. Dick became part of our family almost overnight, and as the days passed, he continued to walk a fine line between involvement and privacy, never crossing over into invasiveness. He was there to help tear down walls and refurbish the house, repair the fence, share cars when one was in the shop for maintenance, haul and chop firewood, and even voluntarily build a house for our puppy. He took the kids for tractor rides as their surrogate uncle while harvesting his crops. We, conversely, gave him an exceptional rental agreement to support his cattle business, offered unconditional friendship and companionship and occasional dinners at our table, and accepted him with open arms. He became a true family member, joining us on Christmas mornings as well as almost all of our other important family celebrations. We will soon celebrate the 26th year of this relationship.
Now that the kids are starting to marry and raise their own families, "Uncle Dick" is working hard to keep his relational ties strong. He has been our Easter bunny ever since 1980, leaving hand-made wooden bunnies full of goodies on the kitchen table during our church service - as well as hiding colored eggs in the yard (not to mention sprinkling the annual trail of jelly beans up the driveway). Now his wooden bunnies full of candy are being mailed long distance to the new grandbabies and their parents. He doesn't miss a birthday or anniversary. Truly, Dick has defined what it means to be a brother with no blood ties – to be an integral part of our lives without being inappropriately possessive. We are truly blessed.
When I step back and look at our years together from an objective point of view, it seems obvious that there are questions to be asked, and lessons to be learned.
Why did this relationship work in the first place? It seemed an unlikely mix – a university professor’s family conjoined with a single, uneducated farmer. Why did he choose us? Why did we choose him? Why?
It seems that God caused our paths to cross. Obviously, we had needs; so did he. It seemed a match made in heaven since we were in a position to fill those needs for one another. And yet…we also chose to do so.
We must have been ready, on both sides, to assume a risk. And that risk-taking started with Dick’s example. He stepped out, assumed the best about us, and initiated a connection by sharing his body, his soul, and his heart. I’ve wondered if he every questioned himself in those earlier days with, “What am I doing here? Do I really belong with these folks?” I know I never once questioned his motives.
Now we all are finding ourselves in the midst of change. Dick has lost much of his ability to farm the cash-rented cropland that was his primary livelihood. My husband’s health is failing, and at some point in the near future we may be forced to sell our 25-acre property. I sometimes feel lost as our nest full of four children empties.
Many things have not yet begun to change, however. Dick’s truck still shows up every morning and evening when it is time to “do chores”; to faithfully care for his animals living on our property. The sun still rises over the hill in our east pasture, shedding soft light into my now beautifully remodeled farm kitchen. The train whistle still blasts – “waa, waa – wa waaaaaa” throughout the day. The lone blue heron stalks the creek bed, the apple and cherry trees shed their fruit. Every winter, we still stoke the wood-burning furnace in the basement every few hours. In the spring, we celebrate the new sprouts of corn and soybeans in Dick’s remaining fields.
Whatever lies in the future is only conjecture, and for today, just today, we can rest in the assurance of the familiar.
It seems that Dick has taught me several very special lessons over the past 25 years.
First, it is not imperative to be highly educated or have lived a broadening life to be successful where it counts. Dick has lived his life on the farm with only a high school education, and has only occasionally traveled beyond the county limits – but – he has been AVAILABLE to others.
Second, hard work and commitment to God always pay off. He is healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. These attributes have made him a valuable asset in many peoples’ lives.
Third, simplicity is the real goal in life. All those bells and whistles and fancy things just don’t cut it when placed side-by-side with a fresh baked black raspberry pie made from wild berries picked by Dick’s rough hands.
Dear Beth, this story brought tears to my eyes, and it just shows that you don't need to be blood relatives to make a difference in love and kindness and comittment, AND FRIENDSHIP. Infact, there are such things as blood relatives that are very unloving...foreverlike too. Sigh. This story is very uplifting! and that special pie sounded delicious. You know, it's kindred hearts that makes a family, and we know that, huh? Loved your sharing!!!