I purchased my first pair of hickory striped Key overalls for doing chores last summer, and upon wearing them for their inaugural milking I discovered a world of simultaneous comfort and utility I had been missing out on. The pockets could hold a smartphone, Dr. Pepper cans or coffee mugs, depending on which end of the day it was, my Victorinox knife and the occasional infant kitten.
    As if I wasn’t already sold for life on these overalls, one night late in the fall I quickly looked in the mirror and I swore I saw my Grandpa Statz, a lifelong dairy farmer also, staring back at me. While I’m not as tall with hands less calloused and longer hair despite inheriting his loopy, S-shaped ringlets, and undoubtedly more feminine, I realized that in becoming the last remaining active dairy farmer in my family I was more like Grandpa than I thought. I told my Aunt Marjie about what happened, and she mentioned that Grandpa wore striped overalls to the barn, too. In that moment, I realized I would wear nothing else to the barn – hook, line and sinker.
    My grandfather would have been 97 this year. He died at the age of 83 during my 10th summer, just after my parents got divorced. To be frank, I knew him not as Grandpa the farmer but as a funny old man that taught me enough German to get me by if I ever found myself wandering through Munich, along with how to count to 20, colors and the occasional cuss word. Grandma probably wasn’t too pleased, but I was in awe and my dad knew it wouldn’t be long before I was bilingually profane.
    Grandpa was smart as a whip in addition to being bilingual, speaking German at home and English with some Latin at the Catholic school he attended. Despite having to quit school after eighth grade to help on the farm, he was incredibly well-read and cared deeply about what happened in the world beyond the end of the farm driveway. He was unbelievably strong. He wore overalls just about everywhere he went for over a decade before having a hernia repaired, survived being pinned against a silo by a bull weighing 2 pounds short of a ton, and went on to not only prevail against bladder cancer but also a brain aneurysm in his 80th year that robbed him of his ability to walk, talk and feed himself. Not only did he relearn all of those things, but when he first began talking again it was in German.
    I miss my grandpa every day, and not a day goes by where I want to pick up the phone and tell him how things are going on the farm. I often wonder what he’d think or say, or if he’d be proud of me and Sam. Sometimes, when futures take a plunge when I feel bold enough to even look at them, when a cow gets sick, and we’re fighting with a lack or overabundance of rain, there is nothing I wouldn’t give for Grandpa’s assurance that everything will be all right.
    Even though he isn’t with us anymore, I still know Grandpa’s there. I feel his presence in the barn when a new calf is born or when we get a sick cow out of the woods. I can hear him laughing while I gush over my growing herd of Jerseys, hearing his old joke about dainty little brown cows: “When a Jersey calf is born, you’d better shut the barn doors before the barn cats drag it away.” As I look to the future, I carry with me reminders of not only my past, but the generations before me who also felt called to this vocation we call dairy farming. Who knew that just a pair of striped overalls would carry so much meaning?