Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Monument Man

If you live long enough in a place that is small enough, you cannot help but lose: teachers retire, businesses fail, houses burn or blow away, schools close. The generations that have come before seem to be bigger than life, mighty men of valor and women of noble character. Compared to us present day Lilliputians, they were founders, pillars, stalwarts...people of uncommon energy...or imagination....or both. Fortunate is the community with pride enough to recognize its distinguished citizens with a memorial of appropriate substance and mettle: it is all well and good to borrow the visage or stature of a famous founder of note, but all the more personal to commemorate one of your own for passersby to Google unto the third and fourth generation. A street, a park, a school, a golf course or a baseball field....all these are fair game to rename as emblems of admiration and respect.

Sometimes the personalities and stories and memories are tied to vehicles....or habits....or hobbies...or other ephemera that gets scattered to the four corners until all trace of the person fades from disuse as the tellers of tall tales and their listeners become memories as well.
The Mather family and Hurst family have been shaping the hills into terraces and saving the soil of Atchison county for three generations now. It's the kind of partnership between long time family businesses that is a hallmark of small town life. Mather and Sons leveled the topography of our hilltop farmstead each time we decided to build a greenhouse. They dug out the dried up farm pond down the hill and piled up the trash trees below it in hopes of fulfilling our dreams of family fishing in the summer and skating in winter. They dug the hole for the 15,000 gallon reservoir that holds the lifeblood of our greenhouse business.

Maybe it was the novelty of farmers growing flowers, or maybe just the primal urge of spring fever, but we could expect Butch to visit the greenhouses months ahead of warm weather to check out the size of the tomato seedlings and anything blooming and pretty. He didn't need to be entertained; he was just getting refreshed. This fondness for growing things and greenhouses in general exhibited itself in gestures of neighborliness and generosity during some pretty tough times in our business.

But we don't need to rely on memories because Butch left us a lasting monument to his humor, whimsy and imagination. One year the county road crews opened up 150th street, the deeply cut dirt road west of our house and discovered that the irritating rock scraping the grader blade was actually a glacial erratic of simply stupendous proportions. Not only was there a pot hole of colossal size in the middle of our road, but also a pink quartzite speedbump five foot high, five foot wide and twelve feet long.

The road guys took the only sensible course; they pushed the thing downhill into a brushy corner of our field next to the creek. The Rock, as we called it, became the favorite destination for Lee and Ann, a hideout, a clubhouse, a place to play and pretend. It also became a recurring topic of conversation whenever Butch pulled up to visit the greenhouse. "You need that rock in your yard." he might say and I'd laugh. Or he'd say, "Just tell me where you want that rock in your yard..." And I'd smile. After all, the rock weighed 200 tons or so and was a half mile down the road, "down" being "downhill".
What is mere gravity against the force of a wild hair? One summery day, we were drawn up to the road by a tremendous groaning of machinery to find an amazing sight: the Mather and Sons bulldozer grinding its way up the hill PUSHING THE ROCK AHEAD OF IT....
We had ample time to marvel..an endeavor of that magnitude does not happen quickly. There was only one logical place for the rock to be planted...right in front of our north facing picture window. Terry Winstead, Butch's experienced operator, pivoted that rock in the middle of the road like it was a soda straw; his maneuvering was a thing of beauty.
Then....he pushed and THUMP! The earth shook and the rock rolled over into our yard threading the space between two ancient forsythia. THUMP! And the rock came to rest centered between the shrubs and the view from the house, as perfectly situated as if some garden designer had ordered his minions to move it 'just a skosh this way...there, THERE!'
It was a work of great good humor and a gift I never cease to appreciate. Our kids played and climbed and read on that rock. I built a garden around that rock. And our grandkids have danced and sung on its stage...used it as a fort....and jumped off it uncountable times shouting, 'Mom, look at this!'
Farmsteads change and homesteads come and go, but 200 ton hunks of quartzite last and last...and stay where they're put...unless a glacier comes along....

Or a man like Butch....

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