Readers Write: A Farmwife’s Kiss
Editors: FarmHouse is proud to present our first reader write-in. This lovely piece comes from Jamie Lockman, who lives in Missoula, Montana. Welcome, Jamie!
Jamie: “A Farmwife’s Kiss” is the result of my mom catching a brief moment with her camera many years ago and me taking creative non-fiction classes. I spent nine years on our farm in Northeastern Montana.
In 1990, I married my husband, Clem, not in Missoula where I am from, but rather on the front yard of our 1960’s ranch house. I intended to spend the rest of my life on the farm and with the people of Poplar.
In the late 90’s we faced undertaking changes in the way we farmed caused by the passing of my father-in-law. We were facing so many changes, that Clem decided at the age of 44 to return to school full time to earn a degree after 25 years of some on and off college coursework. He reasoned that education has a guaranteed return, whereas farming itself did not. We moved the family to Missoula and lived a two-bedroom University Housing apartment. After earning his Bachelors degree, he continued with the Masters of Accounting program ultimately becoming a CPA. We considered returning to eastern Montana, but slowly settled into the Missoula pace and community.
I returned to school and earned a Masters in Anthropology, then worked as an archaeologist for a local firm. We bought a house, retrieved our now lone dog from my parents. I put in a garden and was able to work outside and do a lot of hiking. However, after five years, I found the short-notice travel of archaeology disrupting, but felt especially obligated to go out on a job when contracts began diminishing and becoming scarce. Clem was also traveling for work as an auditor and our family life suffered. I took a job at the University of Montana as a program coordinator for an online graduate degree program. One of the benefits of working at UM was a tuition waiver, so I took some writing courses.
I worked out “A Farmwife’s Kiss” on our patio during a warm July night. I wrote it out by hand in my spiral bound project planner, revising, cutting, and editing it with my pen. I used the photograph that my mom took and that I have framed, to remember that I was always trying to catch a kiss from my husband. I tried to understand my reasoning and impulses for those little kisses. I found myself captured by the seasonal round and daily routine of those days; intense emotional responses tempered to flatness by distance, time, and sadness. The first time I read “A Farmwife’s Kiss” to an audience, I felt like I was soaring.
Unbelievably, I am once again in a position affiliated with farming. I was recently hired as the North American Regional Director for Kamut International, a company owned by Montana organic pioneer Bob Quinn. This past August, I woke up early on the Quinn Farm and went outside to be part of the sunrise. Someone was already at work dumping a wheat truck and loading a grain bin. The prairie smelled dusty and damp and just like I remembered it.
A Farmwife’s Kiss
A kiss! It was more of a peck really. A peck with a chat behind the Quonset. The dogs as ever, close by and underfoot. It’s a hello, a goodbye, just a kiss. A kiss combined with the right words, enough words, and the parts fall into place. It’s an incantation of sorts, keeping you in love with me.
I loved you when you came out of the field into the yard, into the house, your shirt smelling of sweat, diesel, hydraulic fluid, chemical, chaff, and dust, of work. Your cap, glasses, and beard caked with dirt and sweat, your arms damp, a smudge of grease on your cheek, your lips dry, smelling of coffee. You coming in for another thermos of coffee, a forgotten lunch, to call the elevator, to call the bank, to clean up, for a beer, for a ride, because you were rained out, because the wind was blowing too hard, because the wheat was green, because you were done for the day.
You’d get up early for long days starting without an alarm, up with the sun, up when you woke; lasting until whenever it worked to stop. Your dad, the neighbors, our banker, the kids, me, helping to determine when it was time to come in. Your matrix of choices for the day; hard red spring wheat, durum, hard red winter wheat, Amber, Round-Up, Banvel, Curtail, Commence, urea, alfalfa, to seed or not, to spray or not, to work it now or later, cut it wet and turn on the blowers, haul it now or later.
I slept in – and after you’d already been to town, I’d get up for coffee, for the newspaper, to shower, and to find out what your plan was for the day. I’d stay close to the radio, except when I went to town to get the mail and groceries, or to have coffee with a friend, to stop at church, to take the kids to town, to baseball, to a movie, to the clinic. My plan: kids to school, dishes, mail, groceries, laundry, old movies, walk the pasture with the dogs, kids at the bus stop, supper (which I still call dinner), dishes, homework, books.
Your body was rattled to breaking from running the rock picker, shoveling, hauling, cleaning bins, changing out shovels on the tool bar, working; mine was trim from moving hoses to water the garden, the Ponderosas, the green ash, the apple tree. Me with hair long and highlighted in Sidney, seventy miles away every eight weeks; me in a sundress covered with sweet peas bought at a dress shop in Plentywood. I didn’t grow up on a farm, I grew up in a neighborhood, with professional parents who took vacations and golfed.
Your parents lived a quarter mile down the road, until your dad retired and moved your mom to Billings. Then every few months, he’d leave your mom and horse trade his way north to stay with us. His words, from morning to night, critical of everything, except for the bunkhouse, pots of coffee, and a bacon and fried eggs breakfast cooked in a cast iron skillet served with a side of white toast.
You loading the trucks in the oppressive August heat thick with mosquitoes and biting flies; the dust and chaff blowing, caking your sweaty arms, and working its way into your neck, your ears, and eyebrows. I’d read cookbooks and trade recipes planning chicken dinners with capers, lemons, and fresh parsley.
You’d clean the bins, except when an old classmate would knock on the door reeking of bronchitis and Mad Dog and needing money for gas or a fan belt so he could drive to Great Falls for a funeral. I’d run the Electrolux on sage carpets and dust the wood floors getting the house ready for the cleaning lady.
A tractor stuck in gumbo to the axles; calls to neighbors, tow chains, and manly words. You hauling water for the sprayer, you buying fuel, you buying crop insurance. Not much you could do with sawfly, grasshoppers, and wheat streak mosaic. And not much you can do about blow sand, kochia, the price of wheat, the freight rates, cost of fuel, cost of chemical, interest rates, rain, no rain, hail, snow, frost, freeze. A fire started by neighbors working on a junker, burned towards the grain bins, but only got the tires on the tool bar; a call from MonDak Utilities, learning our hired hand trapped the tool bar on the railroad tracks and ripped down the power lines. Thank God for insurance.
You holding down the couch, central air on, watching a White Sox game because our cable didn’t carry Twins’ games, catching the news, Bud Lights close, icing your back.
You putting on the quilted Carhart’s and knitted facemask to haul the grain into town to make the contract, fill a train, make the banker happy, to show your dad you were working and could run the farm. Your glasses fogged, your beard icy. I’d walk the pasture, sucking in the cold air, taking in the glistening brittle frost with the dogs, a jackrabbit stunning and leaping east, bounding to where it was even colder.
Northern lights burning behind the cat barn; there was nothing, and I mean nothing, to distort the green waves and streaks; it was so quiet you could hear their faint, soft hum.
A thermos of hot coffee in the morning, a lunch with raspberry Zingers and a Twins game on the radio in the afternoon. A cooler of Bud Light, just you and the stars, cutting wheat in the fields you knew so well you’d avoid the old ditches and buried fences. The stars immensely deep, the air still warm, the dust heavy, chaff blowing from the combine, and you moving the auger expertly to make the last load by flood light. You walking across the silent yard with a moth-haloed bulb waiting for you. You come home to me, already asleep.