Losing the farm takes large toll

Last article we met Alice and her friend, Irene, while enjoying breakfast at a local restaurant. I wore outdoor work clothes readying up to tune-up my mowers. Irene, Alice, and Irene’s husband and son shared a table. Irene recognized my face from a newspaper article that I composed.

Even though she interrupted my breakfast treat, I didn’t feel imposed upon. Irene apologized yet wondered in might speak to her friend, Alice. I set aside my eggs and home fries and took in Alice’s story.

She and her husband, Mack, were once prosperous Midwestern farmers. They grew crops to sell nationally and internationally. I silently imagined a large spread with farm houses, out buildings, silos and expensive fields.

Here before me was a farmer who might have contributed to my meal. Alice briefly described a generational farm founded by Mack’s family who emigrated from Ireland. The short version of a probable lengthy story was made clear to me. Competition from overseas and politics combined to lose the farm. While sad herself, Mack was her primary concern. Since relocating to Irene’s farm, Mack isolated himself. I was asked to arrange a visit to Irene’s farm. I agreed. They left not, without proudly paying my bill and offering up a new plate of omelet, toast, and, of course, home fries.

Several days later, I drove through magnificent scenery on the way to Irene and Jim’s farm. Not so surprising, even at 8 a.m., the place was bustling with activity. Tractors were moving about, fields were plowed, gardens and flowers were everywhere. I drove up to an old farmhouse after passing some outbuildings. Irene and Jim shook my hand and offered me a “two-bit tour.” We walked toward barns with dairy cows, beef cattle, laying hens, meat hens, wild cats, a couple of friendly dogs, and silos, and a really impressive workshop. These folks had a lot going on to stay busy.

We made our way back to the farmhouse, a two-story structure. We entered the home and Jim bade goodbye. He and his son had work to do. No time for chit-chat. Irene beckoned me to an easy chair next to an enormous woodstove that heated the home. The warmth felt great. Alice came in, smiled, and warmly greeted me.

Where was Mack? I heard someone clearing his throat like a large object was lodged there.

Down the stairs came this man replete with overalls, a starched shirt, and slippers. He was clean shaven with short graying hair. Alice brought him a chair and placed it close to me. “Mack, this man is the one I told you about. Irene and I interrupted his breakfast. I told him that I’m worried about you. He’s a counselor. He listens to people’s problems. I told him that we lost the farm and relocated here. I also told him that you are sad. Will you talk to the man, hon?” Mack gave himself a gestured dry face wash, cleared his throat, and shook his head ever so slowly.

Alice offered some liquid refreshment, a handmade hot tea that both smelled and tasted fine. Mack sipped coffee from a large mug. “If you don’t mind, I promised Irene to help make an apple pie for dinner.” The room was warmed from the woodstove. Mack’s presentation made the air feel heavy. I was out of my element; just Mack and me. I had a lot of experience with silence. Who speaks first; I took a sip of my fragrant tea. A couple of minutes passed silently. Then the unmistakable cry of a kitten broke the tension. A young sweet looking kitten meowed at Mack; he tapped his lap and purring overtook the scene. Mack petted the kitten. His giant hard-working hands safely secured the kitten in his lap. I caught a smile and barely made out soft spoken words of affection.

“Your name is Marshall, right?” Yes, sir. May I call you Mack? “Sure.”

So Mack, have you always had a fondness for kittens? Mack looked down at the sweet kitten curled up in his lap. “You know, when I had the farm, seems like cats appeared weak. Guess folks knew they had a home with us. The barn provided warmth and a secure place. They took care of rodents. Alice took a couple in where they lived with our dogs. They loved the fireplace.”

Alice said that she’s sad for you. “Is that right?” What is life like for you now, Mack? I heard you lost your farm. I can’t imagine the loss, especially after years of hard work. How’s that coffee? Did you drink a lot of it on the farm, your home?

“Yeah, guess I did. The long hours needed a boost every so often. When I drink coffee here, I get to remind myself of the old place. Now some outfit took over. I got out of there fast. Man, they made me mad. I voted for these politicians and they turned their back on me. They betrayed me. I can’t stand thinking of those corporation men who were in cahoots with the sack of … politicians. Makes a man think not to vote ever again.”

All those circumstances of betrayal brought you to relocate with Irene and Jim. They must be good friends. “They are like family. We’ve been friends for years. They are letting us stay here until we decide what to do. We just couldn’t afford the place anymore what with price fixing and tariffs, you know the kind? The American farm is going south if you catch my drift, Marshall.” Do you suppose we could get some air; take a walk, get out of the house? Then I wondered if we could get together to talk soon? “I think I might be OK with that.”

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a masters degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@observertoday.com.


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