Between the Rows: Farms, Family Feuds and Forgiveness

Let’s keep it together this Thanksgiving.

Published online: Nov 03, 2017 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the November 2017 issue of Potato Grower.

We Americans like to paint Thanksgiving in a warm, nostalgic light—a single day of the year where the last vestiges of Americana are still alive and well. We romanticize the aroma of turkey and apple pie wafting from the kitchen, savoring the anticipation as much as the actual meal. We fondly remember backyard touch football games and drifting off into a tryptophan-induced coma.

But because we’re Americans, our collective sense of humor is driven largely by sarcasm and cynicism. So we make jokes about Thanksgiving Day disasters and old feuds that always pop up around the dinner table every fourth Thursday in November. And because all sarcasm is rooted in truth, we are admitting that, on the one day we’re supposed to be thankful for one another, we can’t make it through one meal without letting slip a mean-spirited joke or snide remark that gets blown out of proportion, making the entire day awkward at best and utterly miserable at worst. If popular culture is to be believed, that’s what Thanksgiving is these days.

But I’ve never seen it.  

Sure, I have some family memories I’d rather forget. But none of them is Thanksgiving-related. I’ve come the conclusion that the reason behind so many (relatively) drama-free Thanksgivings stems from having a family deeply entrenched in agriculture.

I don’t like to speak in generalities when considering the human psyche, but.... Oh, who am I kidding? That’s the only way I like to think about what goes on in people’s heads—as if we all fit neatly into one of three or four convenient boxes. So I’m going to go ahead and assume your farm family is exactly like mine, and continue on this train of thought.  

We ag folk don’t have to spend Thanksgiving dinner fighting because we’ve spent the rest of the year letting all our frustrations hang out. Chuck will spend an entire spring morning vehemently arguing with his brother Ben that Field 16 is dried out enough to start planting. After Chuck prevails and promptly sinks the tractor up to its axles in thick, gooey muck, Ben spends the next couple hours uttering different variations of “I told you so.”

Grandpa will cuss out Jimmy for forgetting to start the pivot before going to see Transformers 67 with his buddies, and Jimmy will proceed to inform Grandpa how much he hates the farm and can’t wait until he can leave and never come back.

Sally will tell her husband Tom over and over that she doesn’t want to drive the old Peterbilt during harvest because she can’t see over the dashboard and the power steering doesn’t work. But Tom, not wanting the temporary help to see just how bad a shape the old truck is in, convinces (compels?) Sally she’ll be fine. When Sally, try though she might, can’t make the turn at the end of the field and drives over 20 feet of freshly windrowed potatoes, Tom starts in on an old-fashioned chewing-out, to which Sally calmly pulls the key from the old truck’s ignition, chucks it as far as she can, and starts walking home, fighting back tears until she’s a quarter-mile down the road. Tom, of course, feels terrible, and he has a rock in his gut for the next hour as he searches for the ill-fated truck key.   

You see, raising a family on a farm means there are lots of chances to get mad at each other. And farm families take full advantage of those opportunities—even the family members who can only make it back to the farm a couple times a year. But they also take full advantage of those times to learn how to forgive and seek forgiveness from one another. When you perform hours and hours of manual labor together, followed by hours and hours of accounting and paperwork, you see both the best and the worst in each other. Not everyone can work with family and still have that family be strong. Farm families can.

There’s simply no need to spoil the most anticipated meal of the year by doling out backhanded compliments and dredging up decades-old infractions. There will be plenty of time to be petty and argumentative tomorrow morning when you’re out in the shop replacing hydraulic hoses on the tractor and Dad refuses to turn on the furnace, despite the 27-degree weather and swirling snow outside. Two days after Thanksgiving, you can fight over who gets to put his Miracle Whip and leftover turkey on the last crescent roll, and who gets plain old white bread.

This year, I’m thankful for all those disagreements, arguments and flat-out fights and the opportunities they gave me to grow up, move on and get over it. And I’m thankful for the family that taught me how.

Now, let’s eat.