Travel around the world and while you are stuck in some capitol trying to get out you will meet ex-farmers and the children of farmers. From Rawalpindi to Manila, from Tokyo to Paris and from Managua to San Antone. The children are slinging frappacinos and the parents are swabbing floors if they're lucky. They may be locals or they may be from another nation.
If you speak to such as these, you will likely detect a lowering of their glance when they get to the part in their story about being “only farmers” before coming into the waiting arms of that locales version of Babylon. They will brighten up and raise their heads when they tell you of their big TV in their crowded apartment and the fact that they are now landlords themselves, having had to take in boarders to help pay the student loans and other bills.
A small percentage of the parents understand immediately, the folly of their transit and these are the ones who were railroaded into the decision to move. The rest were fed disinformation via TV, radio, magazines and letters sent by relatives who had “made it” to the big town. Those are quite happy to sit around in a tank-top and rubber slippers playing cards while the children are out working.
Their neighbors in the city help to perpetuate their self-deprecation. You are OK now but don't forget what you were before you got to civilization, is the constant reminder. You were just a farmer. Some have been to no recognized institution of learning. They are clumsy with computers. The first week in town they didn't know that a “Tall Americano” was a small expensive cup of coffee.
I was having a taxi ride not long ago and my driver was such a person as I have described above, in that he sold himself, his parents, his grandparents and his ancestors mighty short, in my estimation. I asked a few questions as to the nature of their farmstead and what they had cultivated. The driver adopted a dismissive tone and told me what I wanted to know as if he were apologizing.
I let him finish and asked if he were interested in my view. He answered in the affirmative and I told him the following:
“Farmers, in being the next stage after hunter/gatherers, have made civilization possible. Things have worked around a wicked circle so that we now are witnessing civilization putting farming into the hands of men who have never watered a houseplant. Farmers are an extremely endangered species and there are not many groups fighting on their behalf. Their foes are formidable, incredibly wealthy and have the rubber stamps of the world's politicians in their deep pockets.
Taken as a whole, through all time and amalgamated into one man; a farmer is a veterinarian, a meteorologist, an astronomer, a hunter, a soil technician, a hydrologist, a butcher, a grocer, an economist, an accountant, a doctor, a psychologist both human and animal, a ham radio operator, a farrier, a blacksmith, a welder, a mechanic both light and heavy duty, a mill-wright, a carpenter, a roofer, a pipe-fitter, an electrician, a nurse, a cook, a stone-mason, a fireman, a policeman, a judge, a soldier, a teacher, a philosopher, a poet, an artist, an agronomist, a biologist, a fisherman, a chemist, an engineer, a vintner, a preacher, a surveyor, an ambassador, a plumber, a refrigeration mechanic, a cowboy, a herdsman, a gun smith, a forester, a painter a geologist, a conservationist, a musician, a geneticist, a marriage counselor, a barber and a surgeon.
A farmer's wife is as multifaceted as is her husband. The jewel on top of their combined list of talents and knowledge was that they raised strong, healthy, confident children who were not afraid of work and adversity. They had grown up eating the rewards and overcoming the obstacles.”
I paused to look out the window as we approached a red light. I saw a pudgy, arrogant looking individual in a silver luxury car next to us fumbling on the floor-boards for his cellular phone.
“I don't know where you are from but I imagine it's in northern India somewhere. Now, you imagine if that guy's radiator hose burst on your grandpa's land out of cellular range. Wonder if he could take care of himself?”
My driver looked at the man for a moment and a broad smile stretched across his face and he sat up two inches taller in the seat. He seemed to be deep in thought.
As we continued on the green light he slapped his dashboard, “Exactly! Du are to-ta-lee one hundred per tont correct. I see bat du meen. Dat man bould be like a baby bidout his mum. My grandfader bould pull his car bid our cow. My fader bould repair his motor and my moder bould feed him palak paneer fresh mango and cold milk.”
The man passed us on the boulevard and we caught him up at the next light. He looked us over. His expression was like a man who had stumbled upon a spilled garbage can. I began to giggle as I pictured him on the farm with no cell phone and the car won't go. The taxi driver began to laugh a deep rich laugh. The man fixed us both with a withering gaze and the disdain he shot to us condensed into tears of honest laughter on our cheeks. He squealed his tires when the light changed.
“My friend, du know, it bas a bettar life. On our farm.”
“To-ta-lee! Only bun ting wrong.”
“No bloody On-Star.” he grinned.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.