Field of daydreams

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The June cloudburst sweeps across the field, pounding the young corn plants as I scramble for shelter beneath the belly of the John Deere A tractor.

This is tricky, as that area is occupied by a forest of unforgiving steel cultivator shanks. Once settled in, I note that one of my legs is being bathed by a comforting blast of warm air from the A’s fan while the other is becoming soaked. I also discover that sitting in the wrong spot can result in being assaulted by drips of scalding crankcase oil.

I’m 14 years old and, like most teenagers, have a keen sense of how extraordinarily unfair my life is. Being forced to endure this downpour while sitting under an old tractor only adds to my highly developed perception of affliction. As the rainstorm rages, I review the parade of slings and arrows that fortune has hurled at me.

Casting a glance at the mid distance, I see the foremost annoyance of my sojourn in this vale of tears: our family’s dairy farm. Even the phrase “family dairy farm” seems vexing.

Take the first of those three words: family. Why had cruel fate cast me into the midst of such a rabble? I have to put up with seven, count them, seven siblings. How can an aspiring Chris Hemsworth or an undiscovered George Clooney hope to reach even the lowest rung of the cool ladder when yoked to such an expansive gaggle of siblings?

Then, there is the dairy part of the equation. For some unfathomable reason, we have to milk our cows twice a day, every day. We don’t skip a milking for anything, not even to celebrate the most excellent holiday of all: my birthday.

But, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of botheration inflicted by our cows. We live by the rules of their lactation cycles; our fortunes rise and fall with the numbers the milk truck driver perceives when he squints at the dipstick he has hauled up from the stainless-steel belly of our milk tank.

This leads to the farm part. In order to produce milk at acceptable levels, dairy cows must be provided with high-quality foodstuffs. This includes mass quantities of hay, silage and various grains.

My parents, being of the obstinate ilk, insist upon growing and harvesting these crops themselves. What’s more, they also require that my siblings and I assist with the growing and harvesting, and then hand feeding the fodder to our herd of bovine cud-chewers.

Does any of that contain a scrap of logic? Why couldn’t my parents simply, I don’t know, be rich? Why do they stubbornly insist upon earning their money and forcing us — most importantly, me — to help?

At times like this, I daydream that my life is part of a humungous ruse. I fantasize that my real parents will show up someday soon.

One glorious morning, a luxury jet will land on our gravel road and taxi to a stop by our mailbox. A man dressed in an impeccable tuxedo and wearing white gloves — Thomas, the butler — will open the jet’s door and an elegant couple will float down the stairs.

The woman, who is wearing a mink stole and is a world-famous movie star, will place her uncalloused hands on my cheeks and beam at me with her million-watt smile. The man, a billionaire venture capitalist, will shake my hand and say, “Ready to go to your home in Bel Air, old sport?”

As they escort me, dumbfounded, onto the waiting jet, they explain how they had seen so many offspring of the rich and famous become insufferable brats. Shortly after I was born, they decided to place me on a humble South Dakota dairy farm to ensure I would grow up grounded and well-rounded.

The deluge ends as abruptly as it began. A shy afternoon sun peeks through the clouds and a rainbow materializes from the ether. One end of it lands on our farm. I realize that I’m the only person on the planet to enjoy this particular vista.

I climb back onto the A and point it toward our farmstead. It’s almost time to milk, and Mom said that she was going to make her mouthwatering Swedish meatballs for supper. Afterward, we kids will play softball on the lawn while Mom and Dad watch from the porch.

My real parents may show up someday. But, I doubt if they could ever give me such a priceless memory as an after-milking softball game with my family on a warm June evening.

June is National Dairy Month. Have a catch with your favorite dairy farmer.

Jerry Nelson is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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