My Father: The Farmer In His Dell

By Kurt Baumann

People familiar with Sherlock Holmes stories may not know that he had a brother. Only devoted fans know his brother, Mycroft, seven years older than Sherlock, had superior powers of deduction, but was unsuited for detective work because he had no ambition or energy. The only exercise he got was when he walked from his apartment to the government offices where he worked, stayed at the London club he helped found, the Diogenes Club, from five o’clock until twenty of eight, and then went back home—a routine he seldom changed.

Everybody has a circle they live in, from when they wake up through a regular routine during the day to when they go to sleep. This circle includes a status quo of activities whether job, school, or trying to find a way to stay alive to get through the day, involving a regular crowd of people they know, that are part of their status, and ones they avoid.

My father’s dell, or circle, was land of I-forget-how-many acres and a herd of I-forget-how-many dairy cows. It was the world to him. As long as he was on that farm, he was in control. When he left it, the world was in charge of him and he was handicapped. The fact that my grandfather owned it and his brother, my uncle, would probably inherit it made no difference. He was the self-appointed foreman.

Not The Farm, but a landscape like it, image courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio, altered in Photoshop

My father was born, lived, and died a farmer. Whether he worked as a heavy equipment operator or other jobs, whether he owned his own business, whether he lived with my mother, during their marriage, his children in their Wausau ranch-style house or apartment instead of his family’s century farm made no difference. He was a farmer born and bred. It was his life and his soul. His farmer’s soul would remain intact.

It’s hard to picture my father when he wasn’t working or living on The Farm. Sometimes he mentioned things he did before his marriage. Once he took a road trip to (I think) Arizona as part of a job on a work crew and had to stay in a fleabag hotel. When he met my mother at the wedding of Normie Doggs, the Polka King, he was working for a construction company becoming an expert in heavy equipment, earning the nickname “The Spider.” I didn’t know how he came by that tag until his funeral. It seems that he could bend his leg, step on a bulldozer, and pulling himself up like a spider.

When he went into his own business, he designed a business card that had two ends of a twenty dollar bill on one side and his name, nickname, and address on the other. Regrettably, he was a better heavy equipment operator than he was a businessman and his business went under.

For him, The Farm, as we all referred to it, was the only place that he felt at home.  When his life would become too complicated, it was the only place he could retreat into. It would become his priority, his obsession, taking the place of supporting a wife and three children, rent, and whatever bills that needed paying. Since he was the oldest, he felt entitled to The Farm when my grandfather died. To challenge his unstable, abusive nature would be a mistake.  No amount of begging or nagging on my mother’s part would dissuade him. His farmer’s soul remained intact.

Every morning, during summers, before the sun came up, he’d rise, prodding me to do likewise and at end of the day when the sun went down, he’d drive himself and me back to our home. It was dark when we got up and dark when we finished.

Chores in the morning and evening included milking the cows. The herd knew the routine and would be at the barn by milking time, when my job was to help herd them in, fasten the tethers when they were in their stalls, and scrape the dirt and manure from the floor. After the morning chores were done, we’d go back to our home in Theresa, have breakfast, and go back to The Farm.    

During the day there was planting corn, harvesting hay bales, and unloading them. There would be picking stones in the field to for crops to grow. Work filled the days and my father felt it was more important for me do that than enjoy myself reading books or spending time at the Library.

Dad outlived his father, his brother, and bought out his sister’s shares of The Farm and achieved his dream of owning it. There is a saying that goes: “Be careful what you wish for—you might get it.” Besides money, my father had sacrificed everything to get The Farm—including a wife and three kids who wanted nothing more to do with him. His volatile, abusive nature which he had used had driven the people who cared about him away.

The barn which had housed at least forty dairy cows was empty, though he did try to keep one. The roads were overrun with weeds, and the machinery and vehicles were old. He was the owner and sole occupant of The Farm. In the end, he had to parcel it off in an auction acre by acre, leaving only the house that he and generations of his family grew up in. Eight years after that he would have to sell that too.

He spent the remaining years of his life living in an upstairs apartment in Iron Ridge, Wisconsin. He died alone and no one knew of his death until they smelled his rotting corpse from his apartment. He may not have lived on The Farm—but he died with the soul of a farmer.

©  2021 Kurt Baumann

Since 1983, Kurt Baumann has lived in Beaver Dam involved in his community theater, church, and contributor to his local newspaper. After working a variety of jobs for most of his life, he has retired to do some writing. He has written one book: The Written Works of Kurt Baumann.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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