Vacations when I was a kid were always to visit my grandparent’s farm in central Illinois. We would sometimes go for a weekend, but in the summer we would stay for weeks at a time. Often my parents would drive us kids half way, to the McDonald’s in Watseka or the Casey’s Gas station in Hoopston, where we would switch cars and load up into my grandparent’s Ford to drive the remaining hour to Danville.
Danville sits between Champagne, Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana. This city was once a booming factory town known for being the birthplace of Dick Van Dyke. The Danville Dans baseball stadium still stands and was a filming location for the 1992 movie “The Babe” used for it’s look which is reminiscent of early 1900’s era of Babe Ruth. The barn my grandparents owned was built by the University of Illinois and used originally for university studies.
My three brothers and I loved being at the farm when we were kids. We were given a lot of independence. We could roam the acres of pastures. We caught tadpoles in the crik (never the “creek”). We could climb in the barns walking precariously across the beams of the haymow. Walking among the pigs as they rooted for corn kernels gave me a rush of adrenaline. I witnessed my two older brothers being chased by a Holstein through a green pasture one time. Luckily, they made it to the tractor’s wagon just in time to leap in before the cow caught up to them.
We learned a lot about life while on the farm. Grandpa buried every poor animal that died too soon. We knew the routine, the humble and silent ceremony, held at the designated graveyard under a beautiful oak tree to respectfully lay the animals to rest. We learned to respect all animals for their strength and power. We also learned to respect them as living creatures here to enjoy the land as much as we did. We were in awe of the wonderment of finding hidden eggs in the chicken coop. We even rescued and abandoned puppy and named him Duke.
Each day on the farm was the same. Grandma was already making breakfast and pouring the orange juice as we awakened. In the background, the radio perched atop the fridge spoke of the local news through it’s gritty AM radio station. We’d get ourselves geared up in coveralls (“one size fits all kids”) and our boots. We’d wear our own tennis shoes, but we would stick our whole foot, shoe already on, into a plastic Wonder Bread bag and slide them into our boots folding over each clip to help ensure our shoes and feet would stay clean and dry all day. Then, like ducklings, we would follow our grandpa in and out of barns completing the morning chores. After our morning work was complete, Grandma was ready with a white bread sandwich to fill our bellies while the kitchen TV played some mid-day soap opera. And, out for the afternoon chores again like ducklings eager to see what adventures awaited. Grandma’s dinners were always three courses and we often would try to start with the desert. Her pies were remarkable.
This was the day. This was the routine.
Each day on the farm was the same, except Sundays. Saturday night we bathed (others we only washed up to our armpits and down to our necks in the sink with a bar of soap) sharing the only bathroom in the home. No shower, just the claw footed tub. Only lock on the door was a hook and eye latch.
On Sundays, we went to church, The Farmer’s Chapel Methodist church. Grandma and Grandpa sang in the choir and taught the adult Sunday school class. Sometimes we’d eat at The Steak and Shake, especially when my parents were with us. And then, we’d go home to do the Sunday chores.
The farmer has no rest. The farmer gets no vacation. The farmer must care for and tend to his animals and crops each day. The farmer’s down times are spent repairing equipment, sharpening 6 foot long blades for the mower that trails his tractor to cut the grass. The farmer is victim to the uncontrollable and unpredictable weather. The farmer watches the stocks hoping that prices hold on throughout the season. The farmer works seven days a week, 365 days a year.
I often think about my grandparents when I feel down about my own lot in life. I give thanks to all my ancestors for persevering so that I can have life, but I also am put in my place when I want to take a “mental health day” staying in my PJs watching the Today show while sipping on my coffee or when I wish I had a fancier this or that.
The farmer wakes to the same stresses as a CEO, boss, principal, entrepreneur, movie star…it is just the stress of that job. There are often set backs for the farmer and daily surprises throwing the planned day out the window just like the rest of us. Yet, the farmer wakes, tends to his/her flock, sleeps, only to wake and do it again.
What meditation and mindfulness have helped me to realize is that today is a good day, to rejoice in today. I have breath in my lungs, and eyes to see the sunrise. I have a beautiful family and a lovely house suited to our needs. I have a job that allows me to work with kids and to help an entire community of people. I have learned that these are gifts, not periods of time to rush through in hopes of getting a new lot in life. I have even learned to enjoy Mondays.
Today’s world is different than that of my grandfather’s. We are accessible always with the invention of cell phones and the internet. Our emails come to us on our watches. We allow our phones to “notify” us when a Facebook post is sent out over the ether. We face new and ever changing issues in today’s society. Keeping up with the Jones’ is always a present challenge when scrolling through Instagram and Pintrest.
My grandfather did not travel the world. My grandfather didn’t have fancy clothes or cars. My grandparents didn’t do “stay-cations”. They worked. Raised kids. Learned, read, sang in the choir and did it all again. And were happy.
Happiness is here now, no matter your lot in life. Happiness is not your next day off. Quiet contentment does not have to be only for vacations. Those shoes, that new shirt, are not going to instantly change your happiness. Disconnecting from phones and connecting with people is accessible now. The next time you are waiting for the next big thing to make you happy, instead, stop and realize that all you need is with you now. Make this moment the time to rejoice. When the alarm goes off, think, how lucky I am to be alive and to live MY life.
Danville isn’t the booming factory town it used to be, but my Uncle has kept the farm. There are no animals there except for the concrete pigs that adorn the pasture to amuse those who pass by. The barn is ridden with cobwebs and climbing the wooden creaky staircases makes me nervous now of it’s stability. But, it still holds many clues and all of the memories of that hard working farmer.