Monday, November 28, 2016

Because of Taco Bell

Once a week, after we were married but still in college, I'd meet my mother for lunch at the Taco Bell on Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City.  It was a treat for both of us back then: a chance to visit for an hour face to face in the days before cell phones when gas was cheaper than a long distance call.  She walked down the hill from where she worked in the Missouri Farm Bureau building; when lunch hour was over, I'd drop her off at the front door.  She worked in Brokerage in those days..and believe me when I say that was just about the sum total of my knowledge about Farm Bureau ...

My folks were members; the Missouri Farm Bureau reward sign was nailed to a post by the driveway soon after they purchased their farm in Moniteau county. And my mom was the one who nudged us into joining once we moved back to Atchison county.

 Harry Broermann was the county president; he stopped by to visit with Blake about Farm Bureau while we lived in the house on North 4th.  We attended a Young Farmer and Rancher conference at Tantara and took our first trip to Washington, D.C. in 1982, staying in the Hotel Washington.  The top floor overlooked the Treasury Department and the White House....not a view available in these latter days! We visited the glorious ballroom at the State Department and toured the White House; quite the coups even in the '80s and nigh impossible these days.  When Aaron and I tried to get a picture of the White House in March, I had to use my zoom lens just to get them both in the picture!

White House aside,  Blake and I, Lee, Ann, and Ben...and other friends and up close and personal with our nation's capital on these three and four day trips; past and present, history and policy, mingled to give us an education and experience most tourists never see from the Trolley or their walk through of the Smithsonian.

Through the years,  the policy wonks and famous authors, journalists and generals,  historians, and of course, politicians we listened to brought D.C. to life for visiting farm families from more than a thousand miles west of the Beltway.

State-side, our family looked forward to attending the Annual Meeting the first weekend in December. It was our first break from farm work after a long harvest.  When the kids were young, it counted as a vacation: Tantara was quite a bit nicer than any motel we ever stayed in.  My mother was personnel manager by then, responsible for the registration process. Not only were we "on vacation", the girls got to play with their grandparents too!  My father took the kids swimming; we would play ping pong around the pool.  Some years we went ice skating; we walked through the shops, bought caramels, and ate a big buffet breakfast with a lake view.  Blake followed the policy discussions closely, learning the nuts and bolts of both process and personalities.  It was our first opportunity to do something on our own.

A trip to Tantara for Annual Meeting has been as traditional as putting up a Christmas tree.  Lee, Ann, and Ben used to sit in the back row with their crayons and the back pages of the Resolutions book.  Our friend Greg Gaines entertained our kids..and has now spent several years entertaining the next generation!  Several years we left for Farm Bureau meeting after basketball in Mound City.  A couple of years we left for Farm Bureau after wrestling tournaments. A free meal or two enticed the college students to join Mom and Dad for the weekend before finals. This year the floor will be littered with Legos, wet towels, hairbrushes, and unmatched shoes as we enjoy this get together as a family affair.

 Missouri Farm Bureau is getting ready to host its 102nd Annual Meeting.  This December 2016 will mark the thirty-fifth meeting for the Hurst family.  That's a lot of farm policy, pork chops, estate taxes, FFA speeches, runny eggs, Star Spangled banners, hospitality rooms, eminent domain, talent finds, and hand shaking.  It is storytelling unto the third and fourth generation.

We used to be the Young Farmers.  Now we're the Old Hands....

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Our Small World

There is a stranger at the back door.  A casual glance would tag him as American Legion or VFW.  With a cheery frank smile, a crinkle in the corner of his eyes and a bushy white beard, he could be Santa Claus.  But his trucker's hat bears the insignia of the ARRL and so does his windbreaker jacket. He's not Santa, he's a ham.

Ham radio operators were part of the "net" before the net was cool, universal, and ubiquitous.   This ham isn't part of the weather net that operates through our part of the Midwest, but when one of the regulars didn't report into the weather net for a week or so, some of his radio friends looked up this local ham and asked him to check first hand on their long distance friend.  This gentleman went out of his way, made the trip, knocked on the door, and touched some uncommon kindness.

Only in America.  In a small town Chinese restaurant, a Cuban immigrant and a local diner strike up a conversation in whatever words are common between Cuban and the self taught Spanish polished by Mexican soap operas on DishTV.  Later, the Cuban gentleman visits the Lutheran church of the local, requesting the "coo-ky, coo-ky" of the pastor.  No, no, he's not looking for snacks; he is searching for Communion.  A chance meeting over a Chinese lunch  leads to a Cuban worker receiving Communion in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.... an uncommon conversation.

There are no screaming sirens, no flashing lights. There is no ambulance for this emergency, but it is a trip to the hospital and the quiet is scary enough.  They sit, hand in hand, in the back seat, riding together as they have for decades.  On her lap is her hand bag...and a box of cookies.  Emergencies come and emergencies go, but the habits and small kindnesses of a long marriage are so deeply ingrained that they trump any uncertainty.  Whatever comes next, whatever must be faced, someone she loves will need a cookie, and she will be ready.....uncommon devotion.

Monday, November 14, 2016


November 13, 2016.

 In the words of the old hymn:

"Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in
E'er the winter storms begin."

Used to be, we were disappointed, but not surprised, when the men of the family would get up after Thanksgiving dinner and head out the door from Grandma and Grandpa Hurst's house to pick a few acres before evening.  A couple of years, due to drought, or government programs, or both, we actually finished harvest by Halloween.  That was bad.  But more recently in terms of Hurst Farms lore, we fervently hope to bring in the last wagon load of corn...or, in wet years, soybeans, by mid November...because that is Charlie's birthday, giving us twice the license to celebrate.

It wasn't always that way. When Charlie was a boy, the crops were planted much later so the last pass with the plow would catch the late germinating weeds.  Without grain dryers or bin fans, the crop had to do all its drying in the field, so harvest lasted well into December. I reckon he got a cake (Grandma was a great cook!) but otherwise November 15 was just another day of work on the farm....

 Before we were out of college and back on the farm, Blake and I stayed with his folks on weekends.  As a rookie at the farm wife business, I wanted to make a good impression on my in-laws and did the only thing I knew how to do: I got up as early as I heard Millie stirring in the kitchen.  The kitchen was warm, busy, and smelled of coffee.  The table was the nerve center of the family and farm, a place where plans were made, stories were told, and sports were analyzed and deconstructed, years before that word was a part of the vocabulary.

Time passes, but the kitchen table still serves the same function for the much larger family that drops in for coffee, Sudoku, and conversation.  
Sports, from elementary volleyball, through East Atchison junior high and high school, to the collegiate black and gold of Missouri, and culminating at the pinnacle of fan and family allegiance, the St. Louis Cardinals, is subjected to a gimlet eye and partisan 's critique of the referee's and/or coach's judgments.  If one has attended as many sporting events as Charlie and Millie have, on hard bleachers, in cold mist or pouring rain, rooting for winners...and has earned the right to an opinion!  

2016 Fair

1995 Fair, Ann's steer

2014 Fair, Aaron's pig

And then there are all the 4H and FFA projects.  How many steers and hogs, meek and mild or crazy and wild, underfed or overfed, winning or losing, has Grandpa Charlie put up his hand and bid for.  How many times has the auctioneer sidled over to the fence and crooked his finger for one more bid while a granddaughter with a pie or cake stood in the ring?  So many county fairs...more seats in the bleachers....and more appreciation due than any thank you note can express.  
Chocolate cake 1990

Apple pie 1994
In 1978, Charlie helped these two rookie carpenters make a bare bones little tenant house with a toilet in one room, a shower stall in another, and no furnace at all, into our first home.  In 1986, he helped frame up, roof, sheet rock, and finish the addition doubling the size of our farmhouse so kid number three would have place to lay his head. Without his do-it-yourself ethos, I don't know that we would ever have attempted to build that addition, to take on even one greenhouse, much less the much larger projects that followed.  

16 By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,  (Matthew 7: 16-17)
I've got a whole album of photos to prove this verse true.  There's a black and white with Millie and Charlie, Grandma and Grandpa Hurst. 
 There's a wedding photo, circa 1977, of Blake, his folks and his brothers at Trinity Lutheran in Jefferson City.  Sorry about the tuxes, guys; it WAS the '70s.  
Here's Millie and Charlie one Christmas in their old house, sporting personalized red and white Tarkio Indian polo shirts, all the better to endure nights of basketball games in an overheated gym. 

Wedding receptions too numerous to count.

  Cardinal baseball in Redbird gear of many vintages, including the classic set with "Together 19"on one shirt and "Since 56" on the other. 

 We've gotten a lot of laughs from the guy in Chicago who couldn't recall a Cardinal player named "SINCE". Here's Charlie hobnobbing with the Canadian Consul, 
at the podium in the White House West Wing press room, 
querying pundit Michael Barone at a Farm Bureau Foundation banquet,
 laughing with the Vice President at the White House Christmas Party,

 thumbs up at Brooks' college graduation, 
with Alissa at her high school graduation,
 signing the papers at Ben's commissioning into the Army

 and dancing with Lee at her wedding.  
Finally, a hilarious, chaotic  sequence shot at the 60th Anniversary party this past June, with at least one kid crying, one kid dancing, and who knows how many heads turned and eyes closed . 

 By  "these fruits" you will know the "good tree" at the base of our family tree: by good example, frugality, hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, honesty, and dedication.  

We can't fix the Missouri Tigers.

We can't fire Joe Buck.

We can't advise Mike Matheny.

But we can sure wish you a Happy Birthday!

Grandpa and his birthday buddy, Josh

Together they are '88'!