A good friend of my dad’s died suddenly yesterday. Tom was in his 80s and always had a smile on his face.
I got to know this sweet and gentle man a little bit better a few summers ago when I interviewed him for an article on the farming life that I was writing for an edited collection. The article focused on the images and realities of farming in the 21st century, and my dad assured me that Tom–among other farmers he’s known in the community for many years–would provide an honest perspective on the life of a Midwestern farmer.
I can’t think of a time when I shared a more delightful conversation. Tom sat across the dining room table from me in his overalls and a seed corn hat, his wife Della by his side, as he told me about the many gifts he’d been given over the years.
He recalled the years when his earnings were lean and neighbors offered him work. Images of Della driving out to the field during planting season to bring him a sandwich and all of his kids piling out of the truck laughing and running to the tractor to visit their dad. Memories of his grandmother, who raised him, and the wonderful sayings she left for him to “keep me on track,” he said.
After we sat and talked that day, my dad would stop by Tom’s house every time I visited Illinois to say hello or I’d run into him while running an errand in town. His smile was broad, his hugs were genuine, and his heart was gold.