These days, with farm prices lower than the basement of a privy, it is important to maintain a positive attitude. At times such as these, you hear a lot of perky maxims like “When the going gets tough, the tough eat lutefisk,” or “Tough times don’t last, tough people do, and boy do they smell like it.”     
     Optimism is an essential ingredient for being a farmer. Calamities such as floods, fire and drought – or something really awful such as an extended visit by your in-laws – can be endured with sufficient quantities of optimism. And while upbeat aphorisms may help, it is difficult to deal with folks who somehow manage to find clouds of doom in the sunniest of skies.     
     I became acquainted with an optimism-impaired farmer during my 18th winter, when I worked and lived with a downer dairyman and his equally dour wife.     
     I felt like a stranger in a strange land when I reported for my new job. This was partially because the dairy farm was so close to a major city that the glow of its lights illuminated the nighttime sky with an eerie artificial glow. It was like living beneath a neon cloud.    
     I soon perceived a deep vein of negativity in my new boss and his wife. Pessimism was the bedrock of their belief system; their view was that it was not if the world would dump on you, but when. Every now and then the world would do just that, fortifying their mindset.     
     I had stumbled upon the land of pessimism and was in the service of its king.     
     The boss’s doom-and-gloom attitude was difficult to bear as it went against my ingrained cheerful outlook. I could not understand why he was so downbeat. After all, he was financially solvent and had a brand-new dairy facility.     
     The story behind my being hired eventually emerged. Some months earlier, there had been a falling-out between the boss and his son. The boss said that his son’s girlfriend had, as he put it, got herself pregnant. The son married his girlfriend so they could be a family.     
     The newlyweds had nothing, so they moved into the son’s childhood bedroom. The son was young and full of fool-headed notions, said the boss. At the son’s urging, the boss built a new dairy barn and doubled their herd.     
     One day, the boss decided his daughter-in-law was not pulling her weight. He told me – bragged, actually – how he had let her know, in no uncertain terms, that she had better get with the program. It did not matter she was 8 1/2 months pregnant.    
     I could imagine the drama that unfolded when the young wife told her husband what had transpired. The tearful recounting of her father-in-law’s harsh words, how she had felt belittled. It was clear that the son must decide: Would he let anyone – even his own father – treat the mother of his unborn child in such a manner?     
     The son made a choice. The young couple hurriedly stuffed their meager possessions into their car and moved to the city, where the son took a job at a factory. Their baby was born shortly thereafter. The boss said he had heard it was a boy.
     Even though the baby was more than 6 months old, the boss and his wife had not met their new grandson nor did they have any plans to do so.     
     The boss summed up the narrative by saying, “I could tell right away that that little chickie was the kind of woman who would drive a wedge between a boy and his father.”     
    I endured the oppressive negativity that entire gloomy winter. I finally could not stand it anymore and resigned my gofer this, shovel that position. The boss blasted me with one of his caustic sermonettes as he issued my final paycheck. He said I was lazy and unreliable and would never amount to anything. He had known this, he said, right from the get-go.     
     I did not say a word; I simply got into my car and drove away. As the neon sky faded in my rearview mirror, I knew I was already one of the boss’ many pessimism-reinforcing parables.     
     Motoring toward home, I thought of Mom’s homemade bread and her warm, cheery kitchen. Our little dairy farm was not much, but we always looked on the bright side. Yes, times were often tough, but things would certainly get better someday. Hard work and an upbeat attitude can cure a host of ailments.
     Quitting that job opened doors to bigger and better prospects. Opportunities that would have never come my way had I remained in the land of pessimism.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.