Farm Hands

Farm Hands

Farm hand.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers… Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work.

It’s part of my nature to judge a man by his hands. I can’t help it. Despite exhortations to this day from my mother who disdains judging people by physical characteristics (she wants to know what school you attended) I go straight to the hands. It stems from a complex, I’m sure. If I’m in a group of young professionals downtown or at a cocktail party I obviously have the hands of a working man and become self-conscious. If, however, I’m out at farmer Paul Hain’s and we’re battening down a tractor to a trailer with heavy chains and a rusty snatch block, in comparison, it’s quite obvious I have the hands of a loafer, possibly a dilettante. And I become self-conscious.

I like the elder Farmer Paul’s hands, his tough old mitts, especially because despite being a lifelong farmer with years of grubby toil and acres of walnuts and passels of chickens and greasy old iron machines and muddy irrigation pipes and flaky orange oxidized metal heaps all over the place his fingernails are always clean. How does he do it? He hand washes a couple hundred eggs every day with a scrubby brush.

I myself found a bristly brush in the automotive section of Ace Hardware that works fairly well on hands… as well as hubcaps and bumpers. It almost does the trick.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers, the effects, the lines, the meters, the accounts. Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work. I can tell from fifty yards if a farmer wears Wranglers or Levi’s and whether or not he’s in his Friday night jeans or his Monday morning blues, just by the shade of indigo.

I noticed farmer Phil’s gait today as he walked across his farmyard, which recently received a fresh layer of gravel. A very tall man whose work is on the ground, he’s got a case of the bends. Not quite a stoop, but the cumulative effect of a long career getting up and down off tractors, in and out of trucks, leaning over to be a kind and patient listener to smaller people. Hey, there’s an idea. Maybe I’ll try closing my eyes and listening better, just shove my damn hands in my pockets, close my eyes, cock my head and listen… and then see what I can learn.

 

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