‘Your arrogance is unbelievable’

Farm Forum

Recently, my pastor, a former U.S. Army chaplain, noted that the only thing with a higher rank than a chaplain on any Army helicopter is the mail. “I could bump a general off a flight—not that I ever did—but the mail flies before either of us,” he related.

That makes perfect sense; no amount of striped, starred, or ordained personnel is more valuable to military morale than a single letter from home.

The same is true in this foxhole. Your letters and emails are so important that twice a year they—you—command this space. Like this January email from K in Indiana who opened with a straightforward observation:

“Your billing as an ‘award-winning agricultural journalist’ must have occurred at a time when you actually knew what you were talking about.”

After 400 or so more well-aimed words directed at my “partisanship,” “ignorance,” and “Leftist/Marxist propaganda,” K ended by noting, “Your arrogance is unbelievable.”

K wasn’t alone in her observations; many (oh my, many) readers filed both short and long complaints about the column. One faithful scold sent no fewer than eight snail mail letters in the last six months; one of ‘em held five pages of fierce admonishment. That’s a new office record.

Every now and then, however, a letter arrives that begins with a smack to the face but ends with a smack on the lips. One of those cheek-turners arrived by email in mid-June.

“As I get older, my view on life changes,” began the missive. For example, “When I first started reading your column my thought was that you were an idiot, but I kept reading. Now I frequently agree with your point of view…”

What’s more, the writer added, “I was also raised on a dairy farm and grew up Lutheran. (signed) Alan.” Thanks, and thanks to your parents for spelling your name right.

Another emailer, Kevin, sent this mixed review in mid-March: “Love your stories like the one I read on your friend Marvin. Hate the political stuff you do!!”

Well, being right three or four columns out 52 each year ain’t bad.

In fact, eagle-eyed readers have already noted that ratio; three, maybe four, times a year I use this space to revisit some aspect of living and learning on the “southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.” Many of those previous efforts can be found in the small book my daughter, Mary Grace Foxwell, and I put together a year ago.

One story not in the book, however, is the one Kevin felt compelled to comment on. It was a short tribute I wrote in March to my best schoolboy friend, Marvin, who had died six weeks earlier. Few of the now-23 years of “southern Illinois” columns generated as much mail as that simple remembrance of my wide-eyed weekend on Marvin’s home farm.

“Thank you for the memory of your childhood friend, Marvin,” emailed Phil. “Your column left me sobbing as my own memories flooded back. I am a 65 yr. old construction worker.”

“Boy, oh, boy, that’s a good story,” wrote Charlie from California, “it brought tears to my eyes.”

“I have enjoyed your column for a long time,” emailed Paul from Iowa, “but today’s journey down memory lane really hit home. I, too, (had a) best friend like your friend Marvin…. He’s been gone 11 years now…”

You can no more replace a childhood memory than you can replace a childhood friend. You can, however, help a youngster. Evan, a high school junior in Texas, emailed to ask if I might give him some long distance help with a project for his technical writing class. I did.

Two months later, Evan emailed to “again thank you for the help… I did exceedingly well on the project. I also used some your statistics in a speech for my FFA officer elections and I am now the 2016-2017 Sentinel for my FFA chapter.” Great, Evan; keep climbing.

And, please, keep writing because everything takes a backseat to your mail.

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