Editor’s Note: This week’s edition of “Storytellers” was written by Tim Drake. Tim Drake serves as the New Evangelization Coordinator for the Catholic Communities of Bowlus, Holdingford, and St. Anna. The father of six, he resides in rural St. Joseph, Minnesota with his wife. A former journalist with the National Catholic Register, he is a freelance writer and the author of six books.
To extol the blessings of rural life runs the risk of comparison, something along the lines of the “country mouse and city mouse” story. At this point in my life, I’ve still spent more years living in the city than in the country. Both have their drawbacks. Both have their benefits. I was a reluctant transplant to rural living 11 years ago. Yet, I was willing to give it a try based on the fact that my wife had grown up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota and it was something she desired for our children. I do not pretend to be a farmer, a gentleman farmer, or even an armchair farmer. I’ve failed at raising livestock other than cats. I wasn’t blessed with mechanical smarts. I do not have a green thumb. Still, I wouldn’t trade the past decade’s joys, challenges, and experiences. The blessings of rural life have been many.
Recently our family took a road trip out west. As often happens, we had an equipment failure prior to our trip. For farmers, these are weekly, if not daily occurrences. Equipment breaks, tires go flat, pumps fail, livestock gets sick. The difference for the armchair farmer is 1) I often do not know how to begin to repair the things that are commonly breaking, and 2) I do not have the equipment to repair those very same things. It’s usually at these times when I wonder to myself, “What am I doing living in the country?”
About a week before our trip, I had taken out our skid loader to perform a simple task on our 40 acres of land. The skid loader performed the task, but the ride seemed a little rougher than usual. It wasn’t until I had pulled it back into the shed that I noticed that both tires on the left-hand side had come off the rims. Low on air, the seals broke, and off the tires came. The vehicle sat there leaning to one side like a sad, yellow, mechanical Tower of Pisa.
As usual, I reacted with frustration. Frustration with my own ignorance. Frustration for my not checking the tires. Frustration for driving it when it shouldn’t have been driven. And frustration for not knowing exactly how to tackle the problem. I’m simply not equipped with the requisite tools, know-how, and equipment to simply get the tires back on to the rims. The only solution, it seemed to me, was to remove both wheels completely and bring them into our local tire service center for repair. One tire obviously needed to be replaced; the other could probably be put back on the rim and used again. I decided to wait.
When the farmer who rents our pasture came to move the dairy cattle, I sheepishly asked him if he could take a look at something.
“Can I ask for your advice, but you have to promise not to laugh at my stupidity?” I asked him.
To the unequipped man, such a task seems nearly impossible. To the equipped, it’s another day on the farm. The next time he came to move the cattle, he brought a drill and the appropriate sized socket to loosen the lug nuts on the wheels. He instructed me to use the bucket to raise the skid loader and then proceeded to use boards and a jack to get the machine off the ground. Fifteen minutes later, the tires were off.
I brought them into our local service center, where the stem was replaced on one, and the tire itself was replaced on the other. I then brought them home and propped them against the loader, anticipating that I would replace them when we returned home from our family get-away.
However, while we were away, our farmer-renter not only looked after our cats, kittens, and ducks, but when we returned home, the tires were back on and the loader was again ready for use. A job that would have taken me a frustrating hour to complete, was performed by him in minutes.
When I think of our place in the country and the challenges that we have faced, it isn’t difficult for me to find blessings everywhere. There are blessings in the food that we grow to feed our family. There are blessings in the animals we’ve raised over the years and the entertainment they have provided for our children and us. There are blessings in having a space where children can play and roam and explore. There are blessings in being more directly connected to the land and all that it provides. There are blessings in worshipping in a rural community with one’s neighbors. There are blessings in every sunrise, in watching the weather, and in every sunset that we experience at our place. There are blessings in sharing our place with others. And there are blessings in one’s neighbors.
The Gospel tells us our lives should be spent in service, and we can serve one another wherever we live – the city, the suburb, or the country. Living in the country, though, for me, has given me the gift of greater humility in recognizing that there are many things I’m unable to do and accepting the service of others. Our renter’s gift of tires replaced was a reminder of the gifts that God gives to us freely each day, if we but look for them. For all of these things, I am most thankful!