In my current sort-the-stored-boxes life, I found an official note on a 5 ½” x 8 ½” sheet of slightly yellowed paper: “YOUR WEIGHT at the 1975 ILLINOIS STATE FAIR 001190 11:15AM Au 09 75 Compliments of the Department of Agriculture.” So in 35 years, I’ve gained 35 pounds. A pound a year. A pound or two a year after 20 is normal, but that still does not make me happy about my ballooned status.
But aside from weight, the note brought back memories of attending that State Fair. My husband and I took our two kids and stayed with old friends who had moved to Springfield. It was terrifically hot, muggy, as downstate Illinois can be in August. And I had hayfever. Ragweed. So amidst nasal sprays, antihistamines, and Kleenex, I tried to be a good sport as we meandered through the Fair eating elephant ears and drinking freshly squeezed lemonade. And finally finding shade on covered bleachers in an arena that featured a tractor pulling contest.
I’m not in to tractors. Never was and never will be. But if you marry someone raised on the farm, the saying is true that “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” Therefore, I learned to show interest in those tractors. The power their engines had to pull great weights. The way their front ends lifted up in the air as they groaned and grunted to pull the weights. The deep tracks their tires dug in the dirt as they roared away.
The tractors at the State Fair I could leave behind. But not the tractors that we bought as toys for our children. Always John Deere. I learned that one is either a John Deere man or an Allis Chalmers man. It was John Deere at our urban homes. So we had the little green things with yellow trim plowing through the shag carpeting in the seventies. Rakes and trailers followed in the eighties. And we always had a John Deere lawn tractor in the garage.
In the nineties, a new trend emerged. With our children raised, out of the home, and always wondering what to get Dad for Christmas, birthdays, and Father’s Day, John Deere once again began to reign over our house. Framed pictures of tractors. Miniature farm settings set on a ceramic base. A Santa Claus tractor. A John Deere-patterned fleece afghan. A king-sized pillow and two throw pillows covered in John Deere fabric. A photo of our kids transferred on to fabric quilted on John Deere fabric. As we sat in our family room surrounded by these green and yellow John Deere artifacts, I could almost smell the hay barn, the manure, and the chicken house I had visited when I was dating my husband in the sixties.
One day in the early 2000s my husband surveyed our 14’ x 26’ family room “barnyard,” along with my large Monet Water Lilies print on the wall that added some green and yellow, and suggested we ditch the cream-colored, textured-linen shades for John Deere curtains. I, without even trying to be diplomatic, blurted, “No way.”
A few years ago I was meeting in a spiffy place on Michigan Avenue with some women friends that I only see occasionally. The topic went to trips we had taken. One had been to India. Another Spain. Another Thailand. I stayed silent as I listened to tales about exotic foods, animals, modes of transportation. One woman turned to me, “What about you, Lois? Have you gone anywhere lately?”
“Yes,” I replied, cheerfully. “We went to Moline.” There was silence as they looked expectantly at me. “Moline, Illinois.” I grinned, almost gleeful as I thought of my understated trip compared to theirs. Moline is just three hours from Chicago. I added, “The home of the John Deere Pavilion, the world’s most comprehensive agricultural museum. And other John Deere sites. Did you know the self-scouring plow was developed in 1848?” Their eyes began to glaze. Then, along with me, they gushed into giggles.
I think maybe they felt a bit sorry for me, but I did not feel sorry for myself. After all, I married someone raised on a farm, and I’ve accepted that John Deere came along with him.