Between the Rows: The Ties That Bind

Published online: Feb 19, 2020 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the February 2020 issue of Potato Grower

Just the other day, I was chatting with a high school basketball coach. He told me that one of the biggest challenges his coaching staff faces is getting the kids to trust and treat each other well. That’s a tall order for teenagers, whose favorite pastime appears to be tearing each other down in an effort to wear the prom queen’s crown. He said the most successful teams they’ve had have been the ones who bought into the mantra of “Our personal feelings about each other are unimportant, so long as when we step on this court, we’re family.”

It struck me that real families often do work exactly like that. Petty jealousy, thoughtless gossip and incessant one-upmanship may run rampant, but when the chips are down, a real family has no compunctions about throwing an elbow or two in defense of one another. If administered a truth serum, each of us would admit to having a family member or two with whom we would likely not be friends if the blood running through our veins were of a different strain. But because they’re family, you genuinely miss them when they’re not around, and can’t wait until the next time you’re able to get together. They may drive you to drink, cuss and punch a hole through the drywall, but they are the very people you’ll unquestioningly go to war with and for.  

For a farm family—whose members often have to contend not only with the usual family strife, but also with the rigors of operating a business together—that mindset is doubly important. When one brother is another brother’s boss … or when Little Sis consistently has to fight just to get her brilliant ideas heard, much less carried out … or when Dad keeps hiring the same lazy, overcharging field man because “we’ve always worked with Dwayne; he’s a family friend” … it’s an understandable sentiment to want to skip the family reunion this—and every—year.

Seriously, just look at these people:

Andy graduated from Stanford and likes to casually slide that little nugget into every conversation.

Jamie thinks she’s in charge of everything. Josh refuses to be in charge of anything.

Don, for whatever reason, is under the impression that his Spanish fluency increases with the volume of his voice.

Doug believes Donald Trump is the second coming of Lincoln; Lisa thinks he’s the second coming of Caligula.

John always leaves the toilet seat up. Mary incessantly complains about John always leaving the toilet seat up.

Shane is, somehow, both a Patriots and a Yankees fan.

Yeesh. Anyone with half a brain would rather go to book club and discuss the merits of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Pelosi and Putin than spend time with that lot. Yet, day after day, year after year, on through the decades, you work with these people. You make decisions that will shape the lives of future generations with these people. You pray for these people. Heck, you even look and sound like these people. And, most remarkably (and perhaps inexplicably), you truly love these people. A complaint or two about them may escape your lips, but heaven help the poor soul who dares utter a derogatory word against them in your presence.

Regardless of internal jealousy, gossip and one-upmanship, a family has no compunctions about throwing an elbow or two in defense of one another.

“Carrying on the family name” has, to me, always been kind of a ridiculous concept. The name means nothing without the people attached to it. But when every piece of equipment breaks down and the mud is thick and deep, picking up and carrying the actual family…Well, that’s the whole point of being part of it. 

Despite all their rather glaring character flaws, these are the people with whom we surround ourselves, and each of us is—more likely than not—the better for it.

Andy’s Stanford education really did turn him into a pretty savvy businessman.

Jamie undeniably gets stuff done.

Josh, no matter the task or trial, is never seen without a smile on his face.

Don’s stupid jokes and booming laugh that originates deep in his belly keep everyone from taking themselves too seriously.

Doug and Lisa’s political opinions aside, each is a well-spoken, dynamic force for good in the community.

John and Mary, 48 years in, really are a genuine, All-American love story.

And Shane? Well, we sure love him, bless his heart, but there may be no actual hope for him.

After all, pobody’s nerfect.