Jerry Nelson: A letter from Mississippi

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

The mailman recently brought a letter from a lady who lives in Jackson, Miss.

This was surprising for two reasons. First of all, I’m pretty sure that I don’t know anyone from Mississippi. Second, who still writes actual letters on actual paper? This practice, were it to take hold, could endanger our venerable and vulnerable email system.

The lady stated that she had recently purchased a copy of my book, Dear County Agent Guy.

“I am enjoying your book,” she wrote, “But I would enjoy it more with less cows and more wife. Your interaction with her is much funnier than the cows, especially to one who had my fill of cows when I was growing up in Goodman in the 1930s and 1940s.”

Well! I have lived long enough to know that one should respect the opinion of one’s elders, especially when the opinion is correct.

My wife of 40 years has endured so many of my ill-conceived calamities that her stories could fill a row of encyclopedias. People have often approached my wife and, without prompting, said, “You poor dear! I should send you a sympathy card!”

Here are a few examples that will help illustrate my point.

We were newlyweds, and I had a barn that was full of dairy cow manure that needed to be loaded up and spread onto our fields. I owned a tractor and a manure spreader and had borrowed a similar rig from Dad. The plan was for my wife to spread loads of manure on the field while I loaded the empty rig.

Even though my new bride was a city girl, I was confident that she was up to the task. “Just drive out into the field a ways and turn on the PTO,” I instructed. “Go until the spreader is empty and come back to the barn.”

I was certain that this excellent plan would result in twice as much manure being spread than if I worked solo.

But no. When my wife returned to the barn after spreading the first load, she climbed down from the tractor cab and tearfully exclaimed, “Look at the back of my jacket! It’s covered with manure!”

Indeed it was. But so was the back of my tractor, whose cab had been missing its back window for some while.

“Look at my poor tractor!” I replied. “Did you go with the wind?”

“You never said anything about the wind!”

I had not. Being a guy and having grown up on a farm, the concept of windage is baked into everyday life. I hadn’t thought of having “the talk” with my wife regarding wind.

Speaking of wind, one balmy spring morning some years later, my wife, our two school-age sons and I were motoring along a highway in our family sedan. A stiff breeze was blowing from the south. As we drove past the north side of a municipal wastewater pond, a putrid odor filled the car.

“Phew, Dad! Did you have to?” exclaimed the boys.

“That’s so gross!” said my wife. “What have you been eating? You stink worse than a dead skunk!”

I strenuously proclaimed my innocence. Nobody believed me even after I pointed out the offending sewage pond. My wife pulled the car over and she and our sons got out and made a big show of pretending to gag and cough.

I still say that it totally wasn’t me. And even if it was, it didn’t smell that bad.

Once in a great while, I manage to pleasantly surprise my wife. For instance, some years ago, I took my wife and our two young sons to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday.

At a prearranged signal, the boys asked, “Dad, can we have quarters for the gumball machine?” I made a show of grudgingly giving the half-pint panhandlers some pocket change.

They went to the lobby and soon returned with a plastic capsule. Placing it on the table in front of my wife, they chirped, “Happy birthday, Mom!”

“Gee, thanks,” she muttered.

“Open it!” the boys insisted.

My wife gamely complied. Much to her astonishment, a Black Hills gold necklace spilled out of the sphere. Black Hills gold happens to be her favorite jewelry. What were the odds?

My wife dug in her purse for quarters. “That’s a pretty good gumball machine!” she said to the boys. “You better go try it again!”

After they tottered off to the lobby, my wife gave me a smooch.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You have your moments. Not many, but you do have them.”

That was good enough for me. And I hope it’s good enough for the nice lady from Mississippi.

Jerry Nelson