For the past year I have served on the state board of directors for the Oregon Farm Bureau. This endeavor requires a quarterly trip to Salem for a couple of days of meetings. The drive is a bit long at times, but tolerable (it certainly beats walking or riding a horse), especially since on my most recent trip I was able to listen to most of the final game of this year’s World Series match-up between the Red Sox and Dodgers — who, incidentally, last faced off the year my maternal grandfather was born: 1916.
While listening to a baseball game en route to a meeting, I was reminded of conservative commentator George F. Will’s explanation of why he preferred to watch baseball over football. Football, he said embodied two of the most objectionable things about modern America — violence punctuated by a committee meeting (the huddle). Fortunately I’ve never been tackled at any meeting thus far.
Upon arriving at the Farm Bureau office, I parked my pickup and immediately engaged in conversation with my friend and fellow board member Peter. Perhaps because I was distracted, or more likely because I am a rube, I did not lock the driver’s door. Four hours later, I came back to a vehicle that had been hastily “searched.” Apparently, my favorite 20-year-old duffel bag was needed more by a thief than by me — for it was gone. Its only contents were my favorite flannel shirt, a pair of dirty jeans, socks and jockey shorts and a well-used toothbrush, but I was seething, anyway. The parking lot is only a few blocks from the State Capitol and the theft occurred in the middle of the day. It added another reason for me to not trust people in Salem, although this time under entirely different circumstances than that to which I am accustomed.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical — Cindy and I attended college in Monmouth and have fond memories of visiting Oregon’s third most populous city, although apparently not all 60,000 people who have arrived since our departure nearly 30 years ago are upstanding citizens. (Salem’s population was barely 100,000 in 1990 — today it is well over 160,000. I realize that growth is ostensibly good for the economy, but not for my blood pressure.)
Upon leaving for home, I decided to take a detour and re-charge the battery that powers my faith in humanity by visiting one of my favorite “cousins.” While we are not actually blood relatives (he is a first cousin of my second cousin), his farm and his demeanor are a welcome experience without fail. His family has occupied the same farm for four generations since they arrived from Helvetia (with a stopover in Kansas) and settled near Hillsboro. He and his son still stack hay in a 1902 barn that was two years old when great-grandpa bought the place.
After a tour of the neighborhood and a visit with his 96-years-young father (who retired from bucking bales at approximately 88) we adjourned to the kitchen for a hearty feast, prepared by his lovely wife, of sauerkraut and sausage, fresh pears and home-made cheese from his cousin down the road — all washed down with Vitamin R. We discussed the price of wheat, compared notes on precipitation data at our respective farms, updated each other on family news, looked at cute grandkid pictures and even briefly talked Farm Bureau business. We lamented the loss of prime farmland to development, fondly reminisced about departed ancestors who worked hard and left a legacy that is still remembered and appreciated and kicked the tires on some old farm equipment.
After making plans for meeting again in the near future, I gathered my gift pack of cheese, kraut, sausage and Halloween candy and pulled out of his driveway past a line of farm equipment parked by an old barn, and put his mailbox in the rear view mirror. Four hours later I spotted my own mailbox in the headlights as I drove past a line of farm equipment parked by an old barn. All was well — except before I travel again I need to go to a yard sale and see if I can find a duffel bag.
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