That's Arthur Bottolfs, my paternal grandfather. He would have been 113 today. We had 12 years together and I adored him like only an awestruck little girl can do. If you met him you'd be immediately taken in by his deep set, crystal blue eyes. They would be your first clue to his kind and gentle nature.
I lived just across the field, at the edge of his farm, and I was by his side at every opportunity. When I think of him, words give way to a flood of vivid memories. I'd like to share a few with you in hopes you'll get a glimpse of my good fortune.
His vegetable garden was at least a 1/2 acre, plowed by tractor, planted by hand. He taught me to place the seeds just right and how to dig potatoes and pick corn. He'd be proud that I've taught his great-grandson to do the same.
The smell of his pipe.
The way he showed me the importance of speaking softly to the milk cow as he would grab the little three-legged milking stool off the wall. The barn cats got first dibs on that milk. He'd always fill a pan for them before leaving the barn.
His denim overalls and a featherweight long sleeve shirt to protect his arms, covered in sun damage from a lifetime of work outside.
Our tractor rides to the back field. He'd set me up at the edge of the pond with a cane fishing pole while he did tractor work in the field. When I was older he loved to tell me how he'd return to find me...asleep, often with a fish on the line. It's no mystery to me why my soul place is where the water meets the trees.
How his cattle herd knew his voice and responded to that unique call he had for them. I never thought to ask if it was an old Norweigian word or something he made up.
Hay baling was my favorite activity on the farm. For the adults it was hard work and a race against the clock praying the Louisiana rain would hold off long enough to get the hay in the barn. But for me it was like the grand ball of the farm. A crew would gather and after the work was done we'd enjoy Pop Rouge and watermelon in the shade of an oak tree.
I’d watch the grass grow taller and taller until some magic mark was met. Then cut, tedder, rake. After it was cut Paw-Paw walked the fields each day, checking, and when the grass was just dry enough Mr. Newman would appear with his red baler and turn those wavy rows of cut grass into uniform square bales. Paw-Paw gathered his work crew and we'd be off "haulin’ hay," with me skipping along side the action, marveling at the orchestration of tractor, trailer and the guys on the ground easily tossing those hay bales up to the stackers on the trailer. All in perfect unison.
I was 8, maybe 9. We were in the northeast corner of the back field just before that little dip when he said he needed me to drive the tractor. Me? I didn't know how to drive. He acted like I'd done this a 100 times before, full of confidence that I could. And I did, under his watchful eye and easy instructions. I stalled the tractor when I got to that little dip. As I nervously looked at him he never took even one step toward the tractor. He simply talked me through it, again, with every confidence I could do it.
I slowly released the clutch, pushing the power lever forward just enough for the tractor to smoothly move forward and the guys resumed their hay bale dance. I think that's the moment I knew I could do anything. And it didn't matter that I was an 8 year old girl surrounded by boys and men.
In his presence, I felt capable. Like I could conquer the world.
It was the greatest gift.