And I discover it again on a city bus — how this surprise life is still surprising me.
The girls and I, we were headed to the Iowa State Fair. We parked at the State Capitol, with its gilded dome, and planned to take the metro bus to the fairgrounds to meet our favorite farmer.
We stood in the queue at the curb, and everything about us shouted the answer to the question: “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
Maybe it was the way I didn’t realize I needed exact fare for the bus until the last moment. A passenger in line took pity on the farm wife and her daughters, trading single dollars for my ten-dollar bill. And the girls, they were wearing their Pioneer seed-corn caps and their farm-girl tans.
We wended our way to the back of the bus, finding two seats across from a graying man with a thin face, ruddy cheeks and a broad smile. He wore a shirt – with corn from the collar to the hem. He was headed to the fair.
“You from a farm?” he asked, and I told him we were. He clapped his hands together twice, glad to have made the discovery.
“My grandparents were farmers,” he said. Most Iowans are just like the man in the corn shirt – with a rural past and an urban existence. In another generation, as fewer hands tend the soil, thousands more will join him.
(And isn’t it true that we’re all from the dust — even those of us who aren’t farmers or never were farmer? Even those of us who live on the cul-de-sacs or on the eleventh floor?)
Maybe that’s why the man in the crazy corn shirt is drawn to the farm family. He feels the connection to the land, the place where dirty hands turn the soil and tend the animals. The man knows that his shirt came from a farm before it came from a store. He knows that hamburgers don’t come from WalMart.
The man wants to know our story.
I tell him that my husband and I met at Iowa State University. That we lived in the city and chased corporate dreams. That I never wanted to go back to the farm. Never. And that golden domed Capitol? I used to click my high-heeled feet up those steps most mornings, with a reporters’ notebook in my briefcase. The governor’s press conferences and marbled halls are a dim memory now.
I tell the man that in 2002, we did the thing I thought we’d never do: We moved back to the farm. The law-school graduate packed away his suit jackets and ties. (He wears Carhartt now.) The reporter had to stop chasing politicians, but began to chase the redemptive story of Christ.
I like to say we traded up our dreams for a surprise life on the farm. The Good Book says the Lord knows the exact places each of us will live.
The bus rumbled to a stop, and the man with the crazy corn shirt rose to shake my hand.
“What a wonderful story,” he said, and he clasps my hands in his. “And would you please, please tell your husband thank you for being a farmer?”
For statistics on Iowa farms, click here.
For a story I wrote on the changing nature of Iowa farm life for The Des Moines Register, click here.
For a reassuring devotional by Rick Warren … a reminder that God created you with a purpose, and has you right where He wants you, click here.