This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.
Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.
During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.
He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.
I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.
We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…
Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.
Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.
My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.
He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:
LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB
Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.
Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.
I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…
I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…
My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…
I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…
My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.
The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.
I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.
One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and joy. Treasure your mom. Take time on this special day to honor her. Moms are such gifts.
My mom passed away a couple of years ago. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I’m sure she sees to that. She always loved butterflies. There’s always butterflies at the farm. I usually say ‘hi Mom” every time one passes by. There are days when the work is more difficult than others; days when I’m just a bit more tired, more achy than usual. Those are the days when the butterflies spend the most time with me.
I know. It sounds a bit silly. There are always butterflies around. It’s a farm, right? Maybe I’m a bit foolish to make Mom assumptions about butterflies. Then again, maybe not…
Spring is an incredibly busy time at the farm. The days may be growing longer but the time seems to be much shorter. There’s so much to do!
The other day, I was tilling a new section of the farm. The sun felt more like a summer day than a mid-Spring one. Temperatures in the 90s usually hold off until later in the month. I was hot, tired, and feeling more than a of bit of inadequacy and frustration. My “To Do’ list kept growing and the time felt shorter and shorter.
About that time, a beautiful tan and yellow butterfly (I’m not expert on identifying species) lit on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and admired the creature, fully expecting it to take flight once I resumed tilling. I increased the engine speed and took off down the row. The butterfly stayed. I came back on the next row. The butterfly stayed. In fact, it stayed for five more rows before taking flight to wherever butterflies go.
If you haven’t farmed or used a large rototiller tractor before then the idea of a butterfly remaining in place may not seem like such a big deal. The tractor is loud and heavy to turn around as one bed is completed and the next one begun. Add to that the sweat and the constant body movement and it becomes a bit clearer that normally this would be the last place for a butterfly to lite.
It dawned on me that Mom was “paying me a visit”. She stayed there on my shoulder to remind me that she always had (and has) my back. She stayed there to let me know I was doing good work, to see it through, and do what I can today. The ‘to-do list” will get done. It’s okay. After all, those are lessons she preached all the time. It just took me a while to figure out how valuable those lessons were and just how much I was loved…
I don’t ‘know’ if it was mom that day. What I can tell you, is it’s not the first time a butterfly has chosen my shoulder as a resting spot. There may be a myriad of scientific reasons why a butterfly chose to use my shoulder for a resting place. It may be normal butterfly behavior, but I chose to believe it’s one more reminder that Mom is never far away and is always looking out for me…
I’ll go to the cemetery later today. I picked a nice assortment of flowers to leave by her headstone. It’s a small way of saying how much I love, honor, and treasure Mom. I pray we all do the same…
I try to write every day, whether I feel inspired or not. I’m told that such a practice will make me a better writer; that quality content will become more frequent. Lord knows I need that. Some nights though – after a long hard day at the farm – I come home, turn on the stereo (the computer actually), and sit down to do paperwork and answer emails. That’s not happening tonight though; the paperwork and emails I mean. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” put an end to that. There’s nothing left to do but lean back, breath deeply, and enjoy the music.
I never fit in. It’s the oft told tale of being on the outside looking in. I’m not sure why really. I was blessed to have a great family. My sister and I are both adopted – wanted and loved dearly by the couple that became our parents. I didn’t come from a broken home. Mom and Dad celebrated fifty-three years of marriage before Dad passed. There’s no abuse that I know of; at least not physically or emotionally. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home I went to church three times a week, learned about a rather arbitrary God, and tried to live up to impossible standards of piety. That is spiritual abuse, but that’s another story…
The one vivid and undisputable memory was the music. It was always present. Saturday evenings were devoted to Lawrence Welk (my Dad’s favorite) and country music shows like “Live from Panther Hall” and Porter Waggoner (featuring a young Dolly Parton; my Mom’s favorite). Perry Como, Mitch Miller’s Sing-along, and Andy Williams filled the rest of the week.
My earliest and fondest memories were of singing in the car while on the way to South Texas to visit my uncle’s ranch each summer. My Dad would prop me up on his lap and let me take the steering wheel of our ’64 Oldsmobile 88 as we rocketed down the highway (there were no such things as seat belts and the car seat consisted of his arm across my chest when we had to come to a sudden stop…). Man, that car would fly. We would be running at ninety miles an hour and Dad would be singing all the way.
Dad had varied tastes. He’d belt out 1940s Big Band hits on minute, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or bluegrass hymns the next. Many years later he told me that my Uncle Bynam, who was killed in World War Two, was the singer in his family. After hearing Dad, I respectfully disagree…
Melodies filled the car, the miles faded into the rearview mirror, and all was perfect in my little world. Dad’s lap, my driving (okay, steering – I couldn’t reach the pedals), and the songs made that Oldsmobile a piece of heaven on Earth. I can still hear him sing “I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” or “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…” some five decades later.
I outgrew Dad’s lap and at sixteen, found my own seat behind the wheel of a ’68 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe. Dad’s singing was replaced by an eight-track tape deck blasting everything from The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Steely Dan to Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Cat Stevens. My tastes were as varied as Dad’s. My part-time job was next door to Independent Records (the Top 100 albums were on sale for 3.99!). When I got paid on Saturday mornings, I made haste to cash my check so I could buy new albums. My purchases were always dependent on whatever adolescent challenges I was facing that week. Some of you know what I mean…
The eight-track gave way to cassette tapes, CDs, and later to MP3s and streaming services. The ‘67 Chevy has been replaced by my old farm truck. I drive the speed limit most of the time. My feet have reached the pedals for fifty years or so. Every now and then you just have to crank it up to ninety, crank up, the stereo, and keep an eye out for State Troopers, even when you’re sitting at your desk…
People don’t listen to Rock FM radio much these days. It’s become outdated by the plethora of streaming services, satellite radio, and internet radio. However, it wasn’t always that way. There was a day when FM was the Wild West of rock and roll radio. Casting aside the mono pop radio of the AM bandwidth, stations popped up across the FM dial. It was perfect for rock and roll – they refused to follow convention, shunned playlists, and introduced new artist regardless of their spot on the Billboard Top 100.
By the time I started high school in the early seventies much of rock FM radio was listed as Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) and had begun to develop playlists for said genre. Still, there were the musical rebels that played all the albums (yes Virginia, there is such a thing as vinyl recordings) and tracks not found on the AOR stations. They tended to be somewhat obscure – hidden on the dial by their limited range and smaller broadcast wattage. When I found one it was a true treasure. It’s where I discovered everything from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention to Bob Marley or Jackson Browne. It’s also where I discovered John Prine.
I was driving down the highway in my ’67 Chevy Impala SS, listening to one of those maverick stations when I heard “Hello In There” for the first time. It was by this guy named John Prine and honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. If it could elicit that kind of emotional response, I had to check this guy out. I bought his debut album the next day. It started a relationship with his music that still goes on today and I still say “Hello In There”.
Fast forward to 2020 – FM radio is a stereo version of AM pop music and vile talk radio. What’s now considered “classic” rock is anything but classic. It was commercially successful among Baby Boomers back then and lacks any of the substance of FM radio’s glory days. The hidden treasures I once valued died an ignominious death at the hands of corporate media giants.
Sadly, not only is FM radio gone, but the world lost another treasure – John Prine. He died of complications from COVID-19 last Tuesday. I was in my truck on the way back from the farm when I heard the news. I still listen to FM radio, but I’ve traded the commercial crap for National Public Radio and some local Red Dirt radio (if I need to explain, you wouldn’t understand…).
I, like so many others, have spent the week listening to tributes, old interviews, and a constant stream of a lifetime of John Prine music. The songs took me back to the first time I heard “Illegal Smile” and knew exactly what he was talking about. That smile faded as I became older and began to identify with his classic “Sam Stone”. Originally titled “Great Society Conflict Veterans Blues” it became one of his greatest protest songs. For me, it became too real. “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…”
Thank you, John Prine, for a lifetime of sarcasm, wit, reality, and truth. That’s why he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s why he’s an American treasure. That’s why I miss him…