Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Essay on Marital Harmony

As she rounded the corner of their driveway and headed toward home, the farmer’s wife noticed a peculiar sight off to the right. There in the wheat field, right next to the duck pond which sprang up to drown the furrows during the deluge of rain that spring, sat the swather.

The presence of a piece of equipment in the field didn’t normally concern her, but a swather in the middle of the swamp with its header pointed toward the winter wheat caught her attention. Much like those who have near-death experiences, she was suddenly caught in a vision, although her vision was of the future, not the past. She visualized her afternoon plans evaporating, replaced by the chore of pulling a swather out of a swamp.

The vision was interrupted by the sight of her husband standing along the road with his thumb in the air. After careful consideration of her options, she stopped the vehicle and let him in.

Because she has been married for a dozen years, she knew that she must immediately take responsibility for the problem.

“It’s my fault, I’m sure,” she declared.

“Yes, it is. You’re the one who was complaining about the cheatgrass next to the road. I was only trying to make you happy by cutting it down,” came his reply.

It occurred to her that eight or 10 years ago, she wouldn’t have been so wise. She would have asked him what in the world he was thinking by driving the swather into the duck pond. She might even have complained about her afternoon plans being wrecked by the task of pulling the swather out. But now, she is older, wiser, and a bit more sarcastic. That’s why her next statement was obvious to her.

“I would just like to acknowledge that anything that might happen later on today will also be my fault,” she told him. “And I’m sure that something will break.”
He nodded his agreement.

“As long as we’re clear on that,” he said.

She then thought of the young mom who approached her at a recent baby shower to vent her frustrations about all the things she didn’t know when she married a rancher.

Few farm and ranch wives will admonish a young bride about the pitfalls of partnering with an agriculturally inclined man. No one wants to spoil her dream of riding off into the sunset on horseback by explaining that she will be left behind to close the gate and pick up the 14 calves that are trying to turn back away from the cows.

No one wants to blemish the vision of romantic candlelight dinners by telling her that if you’re eating by candlelight, it’s because the power has been off for a few hours and you’re dining on a can of beans. When you do have power and the inclination to cook a nice meal, your spouse is likely to be several hours late, leaving you to vacillate between thoughts like, “I sure hope something hasn’t happened to him,” and “If he’s not laying dead somewhere out there, I’m going to kill him when he gets home.”

It just wouldn’t be right to tell a blushing bride that he will always come to the door and ask her to help move a piece of machinery to another field just as she is laying the baby down for a nap and looking forward to some peace and quiet. It wouldn’t be right to tell her that while her city friends have a week’s vacation to Florida in the summer, the only traveling she’s likely to do in August is a flying trip to town to replace a broken belt on the combine.

Likewise, it would not be tactful to mention to the young groom that his new wife is likely to make more mistakes than he ever thought possible during her first five years on the place. She will drive off in the truck with the emergency brake smoking all the way down the road. She will ruin a rim by driving a mile on a flat. She will burn the bread for harvest dinner, and she will overfill the grain bin.

It would not be wise to tell a new groom that his wife will have significant trouble learning to decipher his sign language while they are moving cows. When he clearly means to open the gate over by the old Jones place, she will read the hand signals as a command to ride back to the house and pour herself a nice cool drink of lemonade.

When the two are working cows in the corral, she will let all the wrong pairs through the sorting gate. She will constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he will feel compelled to teach her a thing or two about working cattle. He will be mystified when she reacts to his teachings with either a volcanic fury or a torrent of tears, and he will be equally confused by her indignation that he expects her to have a meal on the table the moment they return to the house.

The wise woman realizes that working cows is a chore that must be done, and chances are high that she will get yelled at and will have to yell back. Then they will never speak of the incident again.

The seasoned farm wife knows that passing along all this information would be too overwhelming for a new bride. Instead, she should know just three things.

First of all, in the first few months of marriage, a new bride should never do something that she doesn’t want to do for the rest of her life. For example, if she admits that she knows how to run a swather, she can expect that she will be responsible for that task for perpetuity. Sometimes it’s best not to be too eager to help out.

Secondly, she needs to know that she should have no expectations and make no plans. That way she will avoid the disappointment of missed appointments, weddings, dinners, trips, and checks.

Lastly, as illustrated by the incident of the swather in the swamp, she must always admit fault right away. If she informs her partner that she is guaranteed to miss a gear, turn the wrong way, or stall it out, he is rendered incapable of being angry at her. After all, he was told what to expect. And so, when the tow chain breaks and the farm wife who is in the swather is turning the wheels in the wrong direction, they just might be able to share a laugh instead of an angry exchange.

Disclaimer: The above story is for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to an actual person or event is purely coincidental, especially if that person is married to the writer.


jane said... could do could be the next Roseanne!

Luv it!

Treasia said...

I laughed so hard this morning. Thank you for it. I loved the part of the hand signals and misunderstanding them. It was like listening to my mother at one time in her life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving me a good laugh this morning..


Ibleedgreen said...

That brought back some memories!!

Anonymous said...

As a woman about to become a new bride to a homesteader/farmer, I am just soaking up your advice! I already found out the one about not necessarily volunteering everytime - once he found that I can mend his jeans so they're re-usable (what a shock!), he now expects me to do it, and actually *complains* if they aren't mended quickly enough. Married life, here I come!

Jen said...

Erin you have such a way with words and can use them so that the reader sees themselves in the situation! I've been in those situations many a times with similar outcomes. I remember leaving the square baler sitting in the field with my, at that time fiance now DH, on the rack and walking back to the house. Thanks for the laugh this morning.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for making me smile this morning!! Between this story and the grocery shopping story, I think we have parallel lives. At least you can make me see the humor in it!


Anonymous said...

Oh how true your words are. I still refuse to "Learn" how to pull anything large with the BIG tractor=)
Jennifer D.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog now for only a short time, but having grown up out in the middle of nowhere between Lewistown and Billings, it brings back so many very wonderful memories. I didn't marry a rancher, but I'm slowly but surely forcing him into it -- we helped move cows to summer pasture this last year and he was hooked. I got to be the one making hand gestures that he misinterpreted, though! Love your blog!


Happy Mommy said...

I'm not a farmers wife but I am a hunters wife... It is just as bad, I swear! And We also have been married for a dozen years this year. You really made me laugh! We also live in the country. I think I have found myself a new daily read!

BoufMom9 said...

That was wonderful! A real look into what I'm sure is your life. Thanks for the smiles!
BTW For the record, this "city girl" doesn't take real vacations either.

Mum-me said...

Reading that essay brought such a smile to my face. Just swap the farmyard scenario with fixing the motorbike/computer/car/etc and it's just like something that would happen here any day of the week. (Well, not this week actually or anytime soon as he is away, but any week when he is home.)

Let Them Be Little said...

Oh too funny!

jeanie said...

ha ha - too funny - I am sending this to my mother, as she knows exactly where you are coming from!

kymom said...

Oh boy. Maybe I shouldn't have offered to learn how to drive that darn tractor after all......

Loved this one, Erin!

Hugs........ j

Anonymous said...

Wow ! You just posted the story of my life ! How did (LOL) you know ??I read this in amazement that every word you said was so very true of the life of a farmer or ranchers wife . I worked a full time job as a city mail carrier and when I got home I would change clothes, mow the yard(push mower),help jump start the tractor,drive all over trying to find hay haulers (it was baled, in the field and looking like rain)take girls to or from band practice,throw a load of clothes in washer,cook supper,make girls do dishes.And then....listen to what a hard day hubby had !!GEE Doris in Texas

The Pastoral Princess said...

I laughed so hard I nearly woke the kids...I am only 1/2 dozen years into my marriage to a John Deere mechanic/ have no idea how much I can relate to this 'story'. So glad I found your blog! You made my night!

Jamie said...

Thanks for the laugh this afternoon.


Anonymous said...

Erin, your link was passed onto me by my daughter and I just loved it. How very, very true. Forty years of life on the land with cattle left me with lots of similar experiences. I am still laughing about my side of many of them. Sometimes my husband laughs - sometimes just a wry smile. Anyway we are still together and despite the hardships I felt fulfilled by working together - even if I didn't get enough time for art, theatre, patchwork and myself. To all out there - make sure you have some 'you' time as well as 'together' time. Thanks for the great story. I am passing it on. Love Janey

Robin said...

Erin, I agree with everyone else. You are so talented. I can relate to most of what you wrote. We got out of raising pigs because I said it was me or the pigs or a new hog barn. I made the mistake of learning to plow. It became my job. When he asked to teach me to run the torch and the welder, I refused. lol

Anonymous said...

Great post! I bet every farm and ranch wife across the US could relate! As for me, I'm a Wisconsin dairy farmer's daughter who grew up to marry a dairy farmer. I brought a fair amount of "talents" to the marriage (milking, sorting cattle, raking & baling hay, etc.); got suckered into - I mean learned how to - do a variety of additional jobs (chopping hay & corn silage, plowing, etc.), but after 21 years, I have not yet nor will I ever learn to operate the skid loader or run the feed cart. Why? Not because I'm not capable, but because as Erin wrote, I'm SMART enough to know that those jobs would (also!) be mine forever. I've got enough to do! ;-)

ohfarmmom said...

After 15 years of marriage to a farmer, I agree 100%. You definitely have to learn to take it all in stride and handle things with a bit of sarcasm, as you suggest. The scenes of screaming at each other when sorting cattle, and then never speaking of the incident again are so true. Especially the part about the farmer husbands expecting a meal on the table the moment the two of you walk in the house. It goes back to the lesson of "if you've amazingly done it at some point before, they expect it all the time."

Great post, Erin!

Linda said...

I could have written this but not nearly as eloquently! I call the hand signals "The Signs & Wonders", he signs and I wonder what the sign meant. I started to read his mind though after thirty years.

Jessica said...

And entertain it did!

My wise MIL gave that first piece of advice to me, and it seems to be working out well!

Jamie said...

I just found your blog this morning and thought this post was really funny. I'll be adding you blog to my "new and improved" blogroll too.

Star said...

Marvelous advice wonderfully written! I'm putting a link to your website on my blog restricted to my ESL students, so they can learn and enjoy at the same time. Thanks!

FinchInk said...

LOL - You just reminded me of the time I helped pull the tractor out of the mud . . . one foot on the gas and other on the brake of the brand new tractor! Good thing I noticed before my hubby did!!

Blog Directory - Blogged