Between the Rows: Beyond Reproach

Published online: Jan 17, 2022 Articles, Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the January 2022 issue of Potato Grower.

Coming back to the farm to make his living was never in the cards for Tom. Well, that’s not exactly accurate—those exact cards were dealt to him, and he simply chose not to play them. He folded that hand early on because, as much as he appreciated the hard work his mom and dad put in and the life lessons learned as a farm kid, he had other dreams.

Inwardly, Tom’s folks may have been a little heartbroken, but they were never anything less than completely supportive of his pursuit of a career in engineering or programming or accounting. For our purposes, it doesn’t really matter what professional path Tom chose; we only care about the one he didn’t. Because while he didn’t follow in his parents’ exact footsteps—settling down in a nice subdivision ten minutes from downtown—he found himself constantly defending the road he didn’t travel. All the time in casual conversation, someone would say something to the effect of, “Boy, I bet you’re glad you got out of there,” spitting out the last word as if escaping the family farm were the equivalent of tunneling out of the Château d’If. Though his initial instinct, every time, was to get defensive, he became a master at diplomatically dispelling myths and breaking down stereotypes, boasting of his calloused-handed father’s business acumen and his ballcap-adorned mother’s financial wizardry. He told his polo-tucked-into-khakis friends how much fun he had going back to help with spud harvest every year, and proudly proclaiming that his 12-year-old daughter had thoroughly mastered the ten-wheel trucks and washboard roads. Eventually, a few of his friends started asking if they could bring their own kids out to the farm one of these days.

You see, farmer was always in Tom’s blood, even if he knew it wasn’t his life’s calling. And despite the parts of that lifestyle that didn’t line up exactly with his own, he always had its back. Because of the life lessons and all that schmaltzy stuff, sure, but primarily because of the absolute gratitude and loyalty he felt toward his family and every kid who had ever earned his going-out money laying solid-set on pivot corners.

“All blood does is make you related. But loyalty? It’s loyalty that makes you family.”

--Chris Kasparoza, For Blood and Loyalty

The concept, of course, goes far beyond family (though family is obviously paramount). Each of us has something or someone about which we’re perhaps a tad overly defensive. For me, that list includes tiny high schools, Winston Churchill, Hoosiers, border collies, everything in the Harry Potter books, sagebrush prairie, burritos from the grocery store deli, and Dirk Nowitzki. Attempt to besmirch the dignity of any one of them in my presence, and you’d best believe you’re getting an earful of spirited defense. You think I don’t know their flaws, their weaknesses, their failings (and, in the case of the burritos, their startling fat content)? Of course I do. Still, for better or worse, they remain to me unimpeachable, unassailable, beyond reproach.

Your list is probably different. For you, it might be Diet Mountain Dew and AM radio and Roger Moore as James Bond; the option offense and Levi’s jeans and the works of Mary Higgins Clark; McDonald’s fries and fly fishing and cutting down your own Christmas tree.

Maybe you’re the guy who will always buy Case tractors no matter the price point or the bells and whistles the competition may introduce. Maybe you vote Republican or Democrat all the way down the ticket every time because, despite how asinine politicians can be, you truly believe in the party’s stated ideals. Maybe you keep planting Burbanks because, dadgum it, they keep paying the bills. Maybe you just purchased your twelfth Chevy pickup because their “Like a Rock” commercials were simply better than everyone else’s back in the day. Maybe you’re raising your kids in the same podunk town you grew up in because you want them to have a taste of the childhood you had.

Maybe your granddad played it too safe and missed a chance at expanding the farm. Maybe he gambled a little too much when he should have played it safe. Maybe he simply put off implementing a succession plan a couple decades too long. But wo unto the man who dares impugn Grandpa’s honor or intelligence within earshot of you!

Yes, loyalty can be taken to unhealthy, nonsensical extremes. But without a smidgen of illogical allegiance, where would this world be?

The meat you get from a nine-day elk hunt won’t make up for the financial hit of taking those nine days off work. Your favorite team is bound to get your hopes up, only to ultimately disappoint (see Cowboys, Dallas). And the farm may very well kill you. But don’t give up on those things. In the end, they’re what truly sustain you. If we really are all about feeding the world, that has to count for something.