Between the Rows: Finest Hour

Embracing life and people, warts and all

Published online: Aug 05, 2018 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the August 2018 issue of Potato Grower.

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

            —Winston Churchill

The other night, I finally watched Darkest Hour, which portrays the first few weeks of Winston Churchill’s tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940. I loved it. Churchill is a big personal hero of mine, and I thought the film did a marvelous job of portraying him as a hero who, at his core, was just a guy with a lot of flaws and a lot of conviction.

I was talking about the movie with a friend later, and he agreed that it was pretty good. But he had a question for me: “Why is Churchill such a hero of yours? The movie actually made him look like kind of a jerk.”

To be honest, I was a little bit taken aback. Sure, Churchill was arrogant to the point of being insufferable—a classic case of little man syndrome who drank like a fish, smoked like a train, and had little patience for incompetence in those around him. I already knew and accepted all that. While the film illustrated the man’s foibles well, it didn’t really teach me anything new in that regard. He was certainly far from perfect, but since I was in high school, the British Bulldog has stood in my mind and heart as a beacon of what a leader should be.  

In his country’s—and perhaps the world’s—darkest hour, with history’s most brutally efficient military force, driven by a maniacal dictator, bearing down fast, Churchill wasted no time on inane political games or aimless waffling. He refused, no matter how daunting or terrifying the path became, to capitulate to the advancing darkness or even to his weaker-willed colleagues at home. He was not one to sugarcoat things, and had supreme faith in his people’s ability to beat back even the most intimidating invaders. An intimate understanding of and willingness to admit his own shortcomings amplified his strengths and those of the people he led.

Much like to my friend’s question about my admiration of Sir Winston, a lot of people might ask why anyone would want to be a farmer. “Sure,” they point out, “you get to be outside all the time, and no one is breathing down your neck every minute. But you’re working ridiculously long hours around dangerous equipment, breathing in dust, getting sunburned, and skipping lunch half the time. You’re always praying for the rain to come, or the rain to stop, or the frost to wait a few more days.” More knowledgeable inquirers might even wonder why you would want to take out a new loan every year just to be able to run the place. “How can it be worth all that?”

These are legitimate questions. It ain’t an easy gig, and most folks who can juggle all the balls it takes to keep a farm chugging along ought to be able to prosper in more comfortable confines, where fewer variables lie in wait to wreak havoc. There are good livings to be made that require a lot less blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Well, if anyone ever asks you what on Earth you were thinking when you decided to come back to farm (or start the farm, whichever the case may be), have them consider this:

Sure, you may spend all day changing the width of a tractor’s tires, somehow breaking a jackstand and two wrenches in the process. But once everything’s squared away, you get to sit 8 feet in the air and feel 500 horses rumble beneath your feet.

You may have a tan line across your forehead, but you didn’t pay a penny for that dapper Simplot ball cap. Besides, the only place anyone sees that tan line is at church, where folks really should be at their least judgmental.

Your office may not be any bigger than the cab of a pickup, but the view is killer.  

Harvest time might require 16-hour workdays, but it’s not as if you don’t get to see your family—they’re right there with you, pulling the digger, standing at the conveyor, driving truck and cracking jokes over the radio.

Yes, there are a lot of reasons to pursue a career that’s less demanding, less exhausting, less…well, less farmy. Heck, if your heart’s not really in it, this line of work will chew you up and spit you out pretty quick. It’s certainly not what most folks would call a perfect life. Come on, though; nothing is.

Unrealistic expectations are a fundamental piece of human existence. There exists a natural tendency that impels us to accept only perfection in those we look up to or in the life we aspire to. Our heroes aren’t perfect; they’re people. Our dream lives don’t just come when we’re sleeping on the job. It takes perseverance and faith and hope and sometimes even a little heartbreak to, in Sir Winston’s words, “move forward into broad, sunlit uplands…

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if [we] last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”