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Irons in the fire: Still on the team

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 30 August 2017

I’ve been hobbling around, dragging my leg like an old stifled bull for two or three weeks now. What I had thought and hoped was simply a pulled hamstring appears to be something a little more severe.

I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with the sciatic nerve. That’s what several folks seem to think, though I have yet to seek a professional opinion.

I’m OK on a horse, but a kitchen chair or a car seat offers no comfort at all. This latest ailment befell me as I was putting a sweet move on a much younger defender in a game at the annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Though I’ve been a regular participant in the yearly event, I wasn’t really planning on it this year.

I was leaving that to the younger crowd. My son, who was making the two-hour trek back home to take part in our local Pioneer Days celebration, kept pestering me about playing on a team with him and his brother, who was making the three-hour drive from his home near Idaho Falls. Their younger brother in West Virginia would be the only absent member of Team Marchant.

I finally relented to play after I was discussing the tournament with one of my good friends whose age is just a couple years south of mine. He feigned disappointment because his sons, who are close to the ages of mine, didn’t even ask him to play.

It slapped me with the realization that maybe I should take advantage of the chance. Retired, injury-prone free agents don’t get many offers.

Several years ago, the chaos that is my life seemed to be in even more disarray than it should have been. The usual financial and personal woes that at most times were like a pesky heeler pup, constantly underfoot and grabbing at my feet, had seemingly grown into a pack of surly Dobermans whose intent was to grab me by the throat and drag me into some dark, unknown abyss.

In the fall of that particular year, one of my good neighbors hired me to drive a truck during the spud and sugar beet harvests. Although breakdowns and minor wrecks are always part and parcel of the harvest experience, true to what seemed to be my theme at the time, I was in the middle of more than one minor catastrophe.

First, I backed into a cinderblock pillar at the receiving bay at the potato plant, causing the shutdown of nearly the whole operation for an afternoon. A couple of days later, the clutch of the truck I was driving went out, which facilitated some more obvious delays.

Then, as if I needed another kick to the shins, I had to replace the fuel pump on my pickup. None of this did anything to improve my foul mood or dissipate the dark cloud that seemed to be following me. My state of mind seemed to alternate between the twin nooses of self-pity and worry – neither of which does a soul any good. It was in this state I found myself one day as I was helping clean out the potato digger.

Now, this particular outfit is a highly successful family-owned-and-run operation. The family runs a big herd of cows, a custom feedlot and one of the nicest spud, beet and grain farms in the valley.

All of the management, and a good share of the grunt work, is done by dad and his three sons. Generationally speaking, I’m somewhere between the father and the sons.

I’ve been able to watch the sons grow up and transform into working partners with their dad. As we were working on the digger, the two brothers and their father were having something between an argument and a business discussion on which field they should dig next and how they’d deal with a load of calves scheduled to show up the next day.

As merely a part of the background in the painting, I passively listened to the discussion. Somehow, that moment and that conversation became a sort of pivot point in my life. I didn’t miraculously come into a big pile of cash the next day, and all of the annoying and depressing inconveniences of my existence didn’t suddenly evaporate into the cool fall air, but the seed of realization took root like the prick from a horseshoe nail or Grandma’s darning needle.

As I listened to the brothers cuss each other and debate their next move, I realized how lucky they were to have that blessing. Not simply the opportunity to argue, but the opportunity to plan and work and fail and succeed together.

Maybe the brothers didn’t fully realize the blessing, but I’m sure their father did. At the time, my kids were much younger, but it gave me a glimmer of the vision I hoped for, more than actually saw, for my kids. Maybe they wouldn’t want to come home and play cowboy with their dad, but I wanted to somehow at least give them the chance to turn it down.

Now, several years later, we’re still not necessarily living the dream, but we’re darn sure chasing it. And my boys still want me on their team.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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