April 10, 2012
My wife and I eagerly looked forward to Plow Day on Marylands Eastern Shore.
Neither of us grew up on a farm, but we like getting in touch with our families roots. Like most Americans, we are just two or three generations removed from the farm. Today, less than five percent of Americas population lives on farms. At the Founding, it was the reverse; in the 1790 Census, more than 95% of Americans grew up on farms.
Older Americans in too many cities live in fear. Its not uncommon to see their apartments double-locked and windows grated. In farm country, older folks are respected.
Mount Hermons Plow Day 2012 began with a salute to long-time farmers, those 75 and older. These men could tell stories of plowing in the days before tractors, even before electricity came to the farm.
Originally, Plow Day was planned as a tribute to a rural way of life that is fast disappearing. Rev. Oren Perdue pastored the nearby Salisbury Baptist Temple for more than thirty years. His idea was to celebrate the values and the virtues of farm life.
He reminds attendees of the time when the church was the center of community life.
We should not trade technology for common sense, he says.
Although Plow Day started off six years ago with 250 attendees, it has grown to over 2,000. Local TV and print reporters are drawn to this annual event.
I remember stories my grandfather told me about plowing on his Virginia farm. My dad grew up on a farm in upstate New York. And my uncle had a dairy farm in Connecticut.
My wifes grandfather came to America from Canada as a young man. Originally from Wales, Ernest Lloyd sought opportunity in this land of the free. Hungry and penniless, he got a job as a ranch hand in Eastern Washington. The ranch foreman hired him and told him to sleep in the barn. In the middle of the night, the foreman caught young Ernest trying to figure out how to properly hitch up horses for plowing in the morning. Ernest had the tack spread out on the dirt floor of the barn, searching it by lantern light. The foreman, angered, accused the young Canadian of lying to him. I never lied to you, sir, Ernest said, I said I could do the work and I can. If you show me once, youll never have to show me again. We call that the can do American spirit. In this case, it came here from Canada.
Pastor Perdues son-in-law, Jason Coulbourne, spoke to me above the fiddle music and country tunes punctuated by the sound of hammered dulcimer. I even recognize some hymns that were penned by Fannie Crosby, the amazing blind composer of the 19th century revivals.
Jason tells me: Gods hand is in this. And we certainly have been blessed with beautiful weather for the event. He makes a point of telling me that children are cherished on the farm. Youngsters have a need to be needed, he says, and on farms, they are all needed.
He explains that farmers may not be the richest people in the country, but their values are time-tested and true. I ask: Seek ye first? And Jason finishes the Scripture quote for me.
I am pulled away. Its my turn to plow. Ive never done this before. The whole idea of Plow Day is to have local people, mostly men and boys, take turns behind teams of mules, horses, and oxen. This way, they learn something of our farming heritage.
My son, Jim, and I have to share our turn. One hundred others have signed up to plow. Jim does well plowing a straight furrow. I twist my foot in a holeno harm done. But it doesn't help to plow at a 90-degree angle from your intended path. I soon learn there is no R for reverse on a plow.
Back with Jason, Im surprised to learn he has been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the imprisoned Christian convert in Iran. He thinks, erroneously as it turns out, that Pastor Nadarkhani has been hanged in Tehran for the crime of converting to Christianity.
In itself, this little exchange is a minor miracle. Half a world away from bloody, tyrannicalIran, a Christian brother is praying for a man he has never met. The father of godless Communism Karl Marx sneered at farmers. He wrote of the idiocy of rural life. But here I found a community of alert, caring people, a sharing of ideals with folks I had never before met. The love of families and children is so clear here. Its why we come back to Plow Days.