Sowing oats, reaping compassion

I took my first spin in the seeder wagon 16 springs ago. I'd been married for less than a month, and my husband's mention of "seeding oats" drew in my mind an idyllic scene of myself as rosy-cheeked helpmate to my strapping, blue-eyed farmer. We'd work under crystalline skies, inspired by the scent of fresh-thawed earth and all things fertile.

I pictured my role akin to that of a dignitary at a groundbreaking ceremony. I would take my token scoop, a titular effort, and pose briefly for a mental snapshot to tuck into my memory: newlyweds seeding oats!

My husband, however, saw me not as celebrity, but as cheap labor. And within minutes he saw me as cheap, incompetent labor.

According to Dan, my task was simple. He would drive the tractor, while I'd sit in the wagon, using a coffee can to scoop oats into the seed hopper attached (with baling wire and duct tape) to the back of the wagon. To do this, it was necessary for Madam Dignitary to ride with the oats in a wagon that predated the ancient cobbled hopper contraption.

Like a cosmopolitan politician trying to convince America he's a farm boy at heart, I chuckled at the rattletrap implement and hoisted myself atop the rounded heap of oats. A pageant queen waving to her crowd, I signaled to Dan I was ready for my ride.

With a lurch that knocked me sideways off my throne, the seeding began: I bumped against the side of the wagon, clutching the coffee can with one hand and grasping at loose oats with the other - a vain attempt to steady myself. I bounced hither and thither as the wagon lunged and swayed, grain dust and Iowa sod whipping into my nose, grinding against my Miss Congeniality smile, needling my eyes.

We came to an abrupt stop, which hurled me to the front of the wagon - still clutching the can - but some distance from my assigned spot by the seed hopper.

I gasped with relief as my husband appeared at the wagon side, surely to check on my condition. "It's empty!" he shouted above the roar of tractor and prairie wind, gesturing emphatically toward the hopper, "You ran it dry! Keep oats in the hopper!" Then he jumped back on his tractor.

I struggled toward the back of the wagon and wedged myself deep in oats for ballast as our tractor-wagon-seeder train lunged forward again. Diligently now, head ducked against the wind, I scooped, accepting my fall from queen bee to worker bee with commendable grace.

Suddenly the wagon pitched again as Dan braked the tractor and vaulted to the back of the seeder. To praise my assiduity, perhaps?

"The chain slipped!" he hollered in competition with the rumbling diesel, "It wasn't seeding! Didn't you hear it?" He yanked pliers from his pocket and set to jiggling gears and rattling chains, while I picked oat seeds from my teeth, contemplating my culpability for the condition of this shaky apparatus - and mulling my fate as wife and farmhand.

I clicked my mental camera: newlyweds seeding oats. Then I burst into tears, clambered off the seeder wagon, and stomped toward the house.

Over the years, I've returned to the seeder a dozen times, always with some protestation on my part and desperation on my husband's. But each time, we inch closer to common ground. Last week, with rain on the horizon and our half-dozen offspring in school (they are far more suited to seeding than their mother), I agreed to help finish a patch of fence-row seeding, provided it take no longer than the promised quarter-hour, and I not be held liable for mechanical malfunctions.

Lodged at the back by the hopper, coffee can in hand, I signaled to my partner, who grinned as he eased us into gear. Fifteen minutes later, no breakdowns (mine or the wagon's), we'd finished the job. My husband hoisted me off the wagon; I shook oat chaff from my sleeves and hair. And as the sky began to sprinkle, we chuckled at our happy timing, our good fortune: Sixteen years married, seeding oats.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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