I’ve lost count of the numbers of articles I’ve read about the aging farmer population and how this affects agriculture’s future. But none of them ever address the aspect of aging that Don Ashford tells in this story. Since On Pasture’s readership is evenly divided into thirds – young, middle-aged, and mature – I thought it would be a good message for all of us as we work together. Enjoy!
He sat in the shade of an old oak tree, on the ground, leaning against the tree. The old man and the tree were about the same number of years past their prime and if the tree could talk it would be able to tell some of the same stories that the old man loved to tell. The sun was just going down behind the hill and the cool of early evening was beginning to be felt as the first relief of another hot Louisiana day.
When I walked up, he didn’t acknowledge my presence. After a minute or so he looked up from behind the brim of his old, battered silver belly hat, the expression on his face told more than I wanted to know. This old man was worn to a frazzle, his mouth was drawn, his eyes had no life in them and his breathe was coming in short, rasping gasps. This old feller was beyond tired.
“What the hell you trying to do Bud? Alice is up at the house worried to death about you being gone all this time.”
The tone and volume of my voice I hoped was hiding the relief I felt for finding this old man one more time. He looked at me and I could see the life coming back into his eyes. He was not going to let the manner in which I had questioned him go unanswered.
“What you mean trying to do?! Ah god what the hell you think I’m trying to do?! A man can’t tend to his own place without people running after him pestering him and making fools out of themselves. I’m resting a little before I come to the house, you can go back and tell Alice to mind her business and I’ll take care of mine.”
Now before this continues, to make any sense of this little tale some explanation is required. Alice was a black woman near the same age as Bud who had worked for his family since they were both kids. She kept house and cooked for Bud and lived in her own house up the hill from Bud’s. Every day before she went home, she and Bud would make coffee and sit and drink their coffee and watch Amos and Andy on that little black and white television set.
Well, this day, Bud, for not the first time, was late for the coffee and Amos and Andy so when I drove up Alice asked me if I would go and see about Bud.
“Are you ready to go to the house now?” I still did not want to soften my tone, but I couldn’t stop myself. It went against everything I had been taught to raise my voice to an older person. I put my hand out to help him up but almost on cue he pushed my hand away and rolled over and began the struggle to stand on his own.
“You a hardheaded old man.”
“When I need your help I damn sure will ask for it. Until then don’t be going around snatching and pulling on a person.”
With the help of the old tree the old man finally pulled himself to a standing position and, leaning on the tree, looked at me with a look in his eyes that told the whole story: “I may be old and tired and stooped over but I sure as hell ain’t dead yet.”
I reached down and picked up his sack that he carried his fence fixing tools in. After all this is the purpose of his being out this long – he was checking fences. I walked a few steps before I turned around.
“You all right?”
“Hell yes I’m all right! Go on to the house and tell Alice she don’t need to wait on me.”
In the late 60’s when I met Mr. Morris Mundy, he was an old man and I thought he was one of the coolest people I had ever met. He owned a 200-acre place and ran about a 100 head of cross bred cows that were just about as wild and rough as any I have ever helped work. But to me what made Mr. Bud the coolest, this was what everyone called him, was his tattoos. He was a Navy veteran of WWI and his arms were covered with tattoos not the kind you see today but these were like drawn pictures. I thought an awful lot of this old man. He’s been gone a long, long time and I miss him.
The episode described in this story is true and happened in 1960. I was 23 years old. Now it is 2021 and I have just had my 84th birthday. As I was writing this little story about Mr. Bud, I realized something. I have become Mr. Bud. No, I don’t have any cool tattoos on my arms. But I am beginning to hear the same stuff that I said to him about what I can do and not do: “Daddy you don’t need to be doing that,” whatever that happens to be on any given day.
The last hurricane that came through our country was named Ida and she took off part of our barn roof. I have been forbidden by Betty and both of my kids, plus most of the grandkids, from getting on that barn roof. If I see something that needs doing most of the time I won’t say anything about it until it is done because I do not need or want to hear all of that chatter. I understand and appreciate all of the concern related to my well-being, but it is hard to admit that it is a fact that there are some things that I just can’t do any more.
So now I understand Mr. Bud’s frustration with all of us back in 1960. But getting old is not so bad when you consider the alternative and realize that this is the natural progression necessary for you to see your grandchildren and great grandchildren grow to adulthood. Dying young would not allow this to happen so it is reasonable to expect all of the aches and pains of old age to accompany the joy of being part of the growth and development of these young folks.
So just enjoy it. It may be later than you think.