The Farmer’s father died last week. The funeral is behind us, the last of the leftovers have been eaten, casserole dishes and cake plates washed and returned to neighbors. It’s an awkward time, when we all try to act like nothing happened, like there has been no devastating loss, like life is "back to normal."
Only it isn’t. It has changed and change is often painful.
The Farmer-In-Law had cancer. In many ways, his death was a blessing. He fought the disease for years but there was not going to be a cure with a happy ever after ending. His family (his wife of 55 years, the Farmer, another son and two daughters) were steadfastly by his side until the end. When it became clear the chemo treatments weren’t doing anything but making him sicker and weaker and even more unhappy, he spent his last few days in hospice care and slipped quietly from this world.
While the Farmer-In-Law and I were not BFFs, I feel the pain of his loss reflected in the Farmer and his family. They lost their dad, their husband, their lifetime business partner and mentor.
The Farmer-In-Law and I did not see eye to eye on a lot of things. He was delighted to find his third-generation farm kid son was going to marry a third-generation farm kid girl. That delight soured shortly after our wedding, when it became apparent I had no intention of following the “get married, get pregnant, stay at home, raise babies, go to church and wait on your man” tradition. We existed in a perpetual state of agreeing to disagree.
And he didn’t like my dogs.
I can tolerate a lot of things but if you don’t like my dogs, we’re probably not going to have a warm and fuzzy relationship. Not only did he not like my dogs, the Farmer-In-Law was a poster child for everything you can do wrong around dogs. A lifetime cattleman, he had NO dog sense whatsoever. I was always amazed that someone who worked around capricious 1,300 pound steers and unpredictable mama cows for his entire life could be so clueless about how to act around dogs.
This was a problem since the Farmer, his brother and the Farmer-In-Law worked our family farm together. The Farmer-In-Law was around our place a lot.
He was okay with my shelties. Sort of. In a stubborn “if I ignore them they’ll go away” sort of approach. It worked. The shelties ignored him right back as only shelties can.
Then I got Jamie. As far as the Farmer-In-Law was concerned, Jamie was going to bite him, it was just a matter of time. Jamie looked like a German Shepherd. Everyone knows German Shepherds are mean and they bite. Therefore, Jamie was mean and would bite. It was an unfortunate truth that a nearby neighbor DID have a German Shepherd (poorly socialized, with major fear issues) and it DID bite the Farmer-In-Law. More than once. So Jamie suffered by guilt by association.
When Phoenix came along, he looked even MORE like a German Shepherd, therefore chances were even higher that Phoenix would bite him.
Honestly to God, I tried.
The Farmer-In-Law resisted every effort I made to show him how friendly my dogs are. I really think Phoenix’s feelings were hurt when his waggy-tail, squinty-eye approaches were rebuffed, often with angry yelling and waving arms and stomping feet. That will turn away cattle. It does not turn away malinois. I tried telling the Farmer-In-Law he WAS going to get bit if he came onto our property and acted aggressively toward the dogs. I tried telling him the dogs saw that as threatening behavior, that if he stood still and talked to them quietly, they would be his friend.
“Those dogs bite,” was all he had to say.
There was no changing his damn fool stubborn mindset. I learned to pick my battles and when to walk away. If he was around the place, I simply kept the dogs away from him. Jamie will be 14 this summer. Phoenix is 6. Neither of them ever bit the Farmer-In-Law, in spite of being given many chances over the years. Ironically, the Farmer’s mom LIKES my dogs. She tells me they are beautiful and “awfully big” and “kind of wild.” But she pets them and laughs at them and is appropriately amazed by the things they can do.
Life goes on. Spring planting season is just around the corner. I know the Farmer will miss his dad desperately as he heads to the field. Even after retiring (euphemism for “still works 12 hours a day but now gets a Social Security check, too) the Farmer-In-Law was an active part of our farm. Over the last few years, as the cancer started to take its toll, I’ve inherited some of his jobs. THAT is a column in itself.