I found the photograph this morning, the one where they’re sitting on the fence. He had slipped his arm around her waist. She steadied those high-heels on the wire and scooted close to her man.
She always liked to dress him up in ties and hats and tailored suits, didn’t she? I suspect he was a lot like you – itchy under those shirt collars, rather preferring the John Deere cap and work jeans frayed at the hems. The dirt and the soil were in his blood and under his fingernails.
You Lee men were made for these Iowa fields.
And I suspect I’m a bit like her – even though she and I are not blood. For I see it in the way she pressed in close to her man, leaning her head to his, before the photographer pressed the shutter. Underneath the polished exterior, she was just a simple girl who’d fallen in love with her favorite farmer.
The couple grew up, had babies, lost one, sent another off to the Vietnam War. Their babies had babies. And now, some of those babies are having babies. They moved out of the Lee farmhouse, to make room for the next generation: your dad’s. When Gerald Ford was president, your grandparents built that ranch-style house just to the south, still staying on Lee ground. And to you, it always felt like there were two sets of parents on the farm, which probably kept you out of some trouble during your teens. ~smile~
You left the farm for the university, with no intention of coming back. And you found a woman who didn’t intend to go back either. Remember our skyscraper dreams?
Yet there we were last night, on the deck, looking over moonlit cornfields you planted this spring, the second spring without your father. We traded our dreams in, and here we are scraping back earth instead of skies.
You raised a toast to our 14 years together, tipping your glass to mine, and you said the words: “We had no idea what we were getting into, did we?”
I smiled wide and shook my head, letting the absurdly beautiful truth of your words settle in. “No, we sure didn’t.”
And it’s been good, so good. We clinked glasses, touched ruby wine to lips.
But then you said it might not always be good, and your reality-check caught me off guard. Scared me even. You told me we will face trial and hardship. Not might, but will.
“In this world,you will have trouble …” the Bible says in the Gospel of John.
But you also reminded me, that we cling to the Overcomer, and to one another. For we are a three-braided cord. That’s how we’ll get through the not-knowing-for-sures of this life.
“God’s got it.” That’s your repeated refrain, and that’s how you’ve taught your wife about surrender — farmer style. Those words echo strong today as I think about the couple on the fence.
The photo was taken at their beginning, as romance bloomed on an Iowa farm. I think about what they didn’t know then: the wars that would come, the losses, the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. I think about how they endured their own not-knowing-for-sure.
I think about the girl especially, and how she leaned into her man, and how she would have looked out the windows of that house to pray for her favorite farmer, and how Emma did the same for her favorite farmer Ole, and how Joyce did the same for Paul.
And how I do the same for you.
They knew what it meant to feel this swelling in a heart for a Lee man who scrapes back Earth to scatter the seed.
Last week, they put your grandparents’ house on the back of a semi-truck and hauled it down the highway. They set that house on another piece of land, somewhere near Orange City. Another family will build up lives and love in that house. And it’s good to know it will hold breath and laughter again. It’s been sad to see it sit empty these last few years since your Grandma left for the assisted-living center.
I think about coming through that back door the first time with you, with my manicured nails and just-right clothes.
We were just visiting back then.
They took the house away, but we keep the better part. We keep the legacy of faith, the sureness of God in the uncertainty of life. We keep the rootedness of family, tied to Earth and our encircling God. You can’t haul that away on a trailer.
In the not-knowing-for-sure, we have more certainty than we ever could have hoped for. And for this simple Iowa girl who’s fallen in love with her favorite farmer? I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Happy Anniversary. I love you.