“What you need,” my father used to say whenever one of my young love affairs went wrong, “is a good old farm boy.”
I cannot overstate how puzzling (more like patently ridiculous) this advice seemed at the time – going all the way back to my earliest dating years in an “over-the-mountain” suburb of Birmingham, Ala. We could leave our driveway near the foot of Red Mountain and be looking up at a 20-story building in less than 10 minutes. My high school had an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, two auditoriums and a marching band that performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. My favorite hangout was the mall. It was not exactly fertile hunting ground for someone in search of a good old farm boy. In fact, my father – a farmer’s son who had chosen a career over farming – might have been the only one in a 30-mile radius.
A small sampling of the boyfriends who later did pass through my life further underscores just how unlikely it was that I would ever end up with somebody who knew how to artificially inseminate a heifer.
There was the art major who wore an earring made out of a mouse skull. The South African restaurant manager with a swoon-inducing accent and a serious drinking problem, and the future insurance executive who wore plaid pants “just to piss people off.” The sportswriter who read German philosophers for fun. The professional winemaker who tended grapevines at a vineyard just outside Atlanta – the closest I ever came to dating a farmer. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they came along (forgive me if I couldn’t resist the urge to break out into a little Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson), but none of my young flings even remotely hinted at a future involving manure spreaders.
So here I am, preparing to celebrate, on Nov. 28, 20 years of wedded bliss to, yes, a farmer. As I have explained here before, we met on the beach in Florida and ended up married on his family farm in rural Louisiana. The irony of it all cannot be underestimated. More ironic yet is that I can no longer imagine being content with anyone else.
Oh, sure. Sometimes I wonder what life with a fellow liberal arts type might have been like. But truthfully, I fear my heart could never again go pitter-pat over a man who isn’t as handy with a toolbox as he is with a romantic verse. Because he has been fixing things ever since he was a kid on the farm, there aren’t many repairs my husband can’t handle. Harvey is my own personal superhero, rescuing me from leaking roofs, shorted-out electrical sockets and fritzing furnaces. I understand the appeal of a lover who can whisper sweet lines by Burns or Browning, but once you’ve had a man who can change your brake pads and wire a ceiling fan, you never go back.
But it’s more, of course, than having a resident handyman that makes me thankful for my farmer. It’s the comfort of knowing I’m on this sometimes-harrowing ride called life with a partner who doesn’t cut and run when the going gets rocky. I can’t count the times I’ve seen him staggering-tired, filthy, discouraged almost to tears and facing a herculean task or problem no one could solve but him and him alone. Many a good man would have said, “To hell with this,” but Harvey never does. Not for long, anyway.
The example that springs to mind is the time we desperately needed a new hay barn but didn’t have $50,000 to have it done. Although he had never built much more than a doghouse, Harvey decided to do it himself.
He spent weeks gathering materials, getting advice from friends and professionals and drawing up plans. (And by “plans,” I mean some chicken scratch on a yellow legal pad.) For help, Harvey enlisted a 60-year-old part-time farmhand and two talented young welders who were not unfamiliar with the accommodations at the parish jail on a Saturday night. He built his own scaffolding, rigged up the tractor’s hay fork so that it could hoist 40-foot-long metal trusses onto 14-foot-high poles and set out to build a massive metal barn.
You have to love someone that crazy.
The first few days went amazingly well. Harvey and his band of misfits were figuring things out and making progress, despite the challenges and the withering Louisiana heat. Then, late one afternoon, I looked out the window and saw him walking slowly up the road from the barn. His shirt was soaked in sweat. He was dirty from head to toe, and his head was hanging down.
“It fell down,” he said when he walked into the house. I think his lower lip quivered.
A slight miscalculation had caused part of the framework to twist and topple, knocking over other poles on the way down. A good three days of backbreaking work had gone down the tubes – to say nothing of Harvey’s pride.
But the next morning he was back out there again. And the next and the next. Today, we have an 64,000-square-foot barn that is the envy of our customers and our farmer friends, not only because it is, in fact, a pretty impressive structure but also because, once again, Harvey found a way to do what had to be done.
I am not sure not sure whether he’s a farmer because he is tenacious or if he is tenacious because he’s a farmer. I am positive, however, he is the person I want with me in the proverbial foxhole. The man does. not. give. up.
I can make these kinds of observations after two decades of marriage. There were other qualities, however, that I appreciated right away, such as this farmer guy’s utter lack of pretense and his clear-eyed take on the absurdities of city life.
I will never forget the time when I lived in Atlanta and he and I attended a friend’s birthday dinner at a Mexican joint in a trendy neighborhood. He was seated next to a pale young woman who was all in black from her dyed hair to her combat boots. When everyone else’s meals arrived before hers, he politely asked if she would like to share his beef nachos.
She recoiled in disgust.
“Ugh,” she sniffed. “I haven’t eaten red meat in eight years.”
Harvey never missed a beat. “Well, then, it’s time you had some,” he insisted in his best “dumb country boy” impersonation, sliding his plate toward her. “It’s just as good as it ever was!”
I remember another great moment during a weekend in the French Quarter. This was back when past lives and auras and chakras were all the rage. It seemed like every other shop in the Quarter that day was hawking crystals. Finally, Harvey turned to me and asked if I could explain what all this crystal business was about. He listened intently as I told him what little I knew about the New Age movement and its belief that rocks had the power to promote physical and spiritual healing.
After I finished, he was quiet for a few moments. Then he said, “You know what I would call ‘New Age’?” He paused for a long beat. “Newage.”
He pronounced it to rhyme with ‘“sewage.” Never cracked a smile.
I knew right then and there that this was the man for me.
And 20 years later I am happy to admit that my Father Knew Best, all along.
Thanks for the advice, Daddy – and the good old farm boy.