I have a confession to make. Growing up, I loved to go to church, but not always for the right reasons.
While I'm sure many of the early teachings have helped temper my character, it was the opportunity to talk crops that often called me.
Our family was always late to Sunday service. You could count on it as sure as spring follows winter or that you could go to "H-E-double hockey sticks" for saying four letter words. Our dusty, powder blue Ford would skid round the corner leading to First Baptist and slide to a stop on the street right in front of the parsonage.
I can never look at a semi-truck loaded with market hogs without thinking it resembles five kids piled into the back seat of our family car. Doors would fly open, and Mom's hand was like a hot shot -- swatting, prodding, and shooing us toward the greeter on the church steps, who knew enough to keep those doors open until the seven of us appeared. As the door latch clicked behind us, Mom was still trying to stick our cowlicks down with spit as we clamored into the wooden pews -- her shushing replacing sooey.
Those mornings when the pastor got long winded, or we had communion were agony for me. It meant the subsequent Sunday School sessions would likely cut into what I was really waiting for -- time for farm talk. While most kids played tag or chased each other with fake cooties, I'd try to sneak into the clusters of farmers that congregated outside the church after worship to catch up on the latest weather, pest or market worry.
At first, Dad would try to shoo me away, but I stuck around like gumbo dried on a boot. Hardly any amount of scrubbing will rid you of clay gumbo. You eventually just carry bits of it with you.
All I wanted to do was listen, observe, and soak up the mannerisms and notions. As they talked, the farmers would bow their heads a little and rearrange road gravel with the toe of their Sunday shoes. In those days, we polished shoes regular like and you could always tell who had the most to say at the end of the Sunday farm chats by looking at the tips of those "good" shoes.
When I eventually became an agricultural journalist, several of the church farmers allowed that they had predicted it. As I was coming up, some of these guys would occasionally give me a head noogie with their knuckles and ask for my opinion on this or that. It always made me want to pluck a blade of grass or a wheat head before answering. Everyone knows a good answer requires chewing on something.
I'd pert near forgotten about this stage of my upbringing until I was sitting in a soybean production meeting this week. I can't count how many meetings I've attended in my career, but I can list on one hand how many in-person events I've sat in on during these pandemic years.
Truthfully, I had started to wonder if live meetings were still needed. Virtual meetings allow me to attend things all over the world (sometimes on the same day) and I don't have to dress up or get there on time, providing the sessions are recorded.
I pert near cancelled my plans to go to this meeting, too. I found myself searching for phone chargers and work appropriate clothes. It was snowing and slick. I couldn't take my golden retrievers. So. Many. Excuses.
But, this week I had talked by phone with a farmer and something he said stuck to me like, well ... gumbo. Simply put, his message was about commitment and making sure you show up every day, even if you don't always feel like it.
So, I went to the meeting. And I'm glad I did. I visited with farmers and ag industry folks I've not seen in a long time. We rearranged the carpet in the building with our toes. I learned new tidbits about agronomy, farm management and some estate planning challenges headed our way. All the way home I gave thanks that the other attendees were there too, because I've lost more than a few friends during the past two years.
I came home with a new attitude of gratitude that I could attend something in person again and hold a notebook full of new ideas. Mostly, I learned that I still need people in real time more than I would have ever guessed.
That's my true confession.
Pamela Smith can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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