Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Farmers Retire

My dad is a retired farmer. Well sort of. He traded in 800 or so acres for about 1/10 of that, resigned from about a third of the committees, boards and commissions he sits on, and called that good enough. He still farms, and he still sits on a half-dozen or so ag-related boards. But he actually has a moment or two of spare time now. In fact, he and my mom actually get to take a few out-of-town jaunts on occasion.

They took one of those jaunts a week ago--a quick 4-day trip to visit my sister and her family--and it was during this trip that I discovered just what farmers really do when they retire.

The afternoon they left, I was sitting in a meeting, and my phone rang. Three times. It was my dad. My mind started wandering through all the emergencies that could warrant three calls in a row, and I excused myself to call him back.

“Are you at the office?”
“No, I’m in a meeting, but I’ll be back at the office in a half hour or so.”
“Can you water my violet while we’re out of town?”
“Umm, sure.”
“OK, I’ll bring it by your office in a half hour.”

Vi, as I’ve begun calling her, is an African Violet that was given to my parents by my aunt. At first, my mom just stuck her in the window and watered her once a week or so. But to my dad, who specializes in precision irrigation, that was just sloppy and unacceptable.

My dad began weighing Vi daily on my mom’s kitchen scale to determine how much water she should optimally have. He hasn’t admitted it, but I’m quite sure there was a spreadsheet or two involved in this process.

When they stopped by my office to transfer custody, the instructions were specific. I must give Vi the right amount of water, every single day. She needs to sit in a south-facing window. And I must give her only purified water, because tap water is too salty. Tap water is too salty? This is the man who insisted that his kids eat the rotten peaches from the bunch so that they wouldn’t be wasted, and he is feeding his houseplant purified water?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. When I was in college, my sisters gave me a plant that they said was “impossible to kill.” It lasted about 2 weeks. If Vi didn’t do well in my care, I was not sure how my dad would handle it.

I shouldn’t have worried, I suppose. With the precise instructions--and purified water--she has thrived. My parents returned from their trip relieved to find out that Vi was healthy and happy. I will be returning her to their care as soon as their air conditioning gets fixed.

Yes, my parents can live just fine in a non-air-conditioned house, but the a/c must be functioning before Vi can come back home. Yup, my dad is definitely a farmer.


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