Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Teaching, Farming, Exasperating

Tomorrow night, the windchill might get to 50 below. I do love winter, but when I hear things like that, I still sigh a little bit as I see a picture on the wall of us all smiling on a beautiful harvest evening. Now that I live on our farm full time, I’ve gotten to know it more completely in all four seasons, from the 50 below, to a beautiful 82 above and beyond. I’ve also had a chance to see it become ingrained into parts of my life that weren’t touched by farming before. When I used to come here, it was just for our farm and for farm-y things like horseback riding, harvest, and hunting. When I left, I went to other cities in North Dakota or Minnesota to go to school or teach school and wear non-farm-y clothes and do non-farm-y things.

Putting farming and teaching together has made some days a bit more of a juggle. My first year teaching here, harvest started one day before school did, which is pretty late for our part of the country. I usually operate a combine for my dad or brother during harvest. It’s a pretty nice job, really: I sit in my air-conditioned cab with the FM radio while I watch my brother and dad outside in the chaff, driving trucks, sweating like crazy and itching in the barley dust. Every evening, my mother brings harvest meals out to the field, and they are glorious. I mean, these are some of the best meals any of us have ever had: meatballs and mashed potatoes, French dip sandwiches, lasagna with garlic bread, homemade pizza, cold lemonade, fresh brownies. And everything during harvest tastes SO AMAZING. We are all excited for a good meal and a little desperate for my mother’s smile and cheerful conversation after hours alone in our separate cabs.

Grandpa Wayne shutting  'er down for supper
Grandpa Wayne shutting ‘er down for supper
An oldie but a goodie: The harvest crew, minus a few
An oldie but a goodie: Harvest crew, minus a few

However, this particular harvest of 2011, there were two problems. 1) My mother was already back at her school counseling job in Bismarck, and 2) I was at my own local teaching job until close to 5 every afternoon, so the bulk of the combining hours would be drawing to a close by the time I got out there. My usual role as a combine operator was not much of an option. We still had a harvest crew: My dad, Grandpa Wayne, my farming brother Danny, my college brother Tommy who hadn’t started school yet, my dad’s hired man, and our cousin. I bravely decided to take on my mother’s role as the “meal wagon.” It was no easy task. If i didn’t appreciate my mom before, I sure appreciated her now.

Oh, there was a third problem. Did I mention we were temporarily living in tiny, cheap – and I mean cheap – trailers while we waited for construction to be completed on our farmhouse? My two brothers and I were crammed into one and my father and grandfather were yards away in the other. The walls were so thin, we could hear each other walking – from next door.

My schedule for the first several weeks of school that fall went something like this: 6:30 a.m.: Wake up for school. Make coffee in the bathroom because kitchen outlets don’t work. Watch everyone else leave for harvest and be really jealous. 7:30 a.m.: Sit in oil field traffic on my way to school. 8:05 a.m. Start day of shaping young American minds. 4:45 p.m. Sit in oil field traffic on my way home. 5:15 p.m. Start supper. Curse at the tiny sink and the tiny, crooked oven. 6:30 p.m. Leave for field in rickety suburban with my coolers of food and jug of lemonade, leaving behind piles of dirty pots and pans in the tiny sink and stacked on the tiny, crooked oven. 7:30 p.m. Smile as the harvest crew thanks me over and over for my meal efforts. Watch them walk back to their combines and be really jealous.

Tommy and I combining in happier, teaching-free days
Tommy and I combining in happier, teaching-free days

9:15 p.m. Back at the trailer. Finally finish washing piles of pots and pans in the tiny sink. Stare at schoolwork. Look outside at the sunset. Jump at the chance to help move harvest vehicles rather than do any schoolwork. 10:30 p.m. Fall into bed, exhausted. Have nightmares about what to make for dinner the next day in the tiny, crooked oven.

Every Friday at 4:30 p.m.: Finally climb back into my combine cab and bask in it until the weekend harvesting is over and I’m back to the school books.

I will say, that harvest of 2011 was pretty unique. We had never had a harvest like that before, and we will probably never have one like that again. Since then, farming still touches my teaching days now and then. Sometimes, I am asked to haul trailers of various shapes and sizes for my dad, so I drive them to school – and park a little farther away. Sometimes, I drive the rickety suburban to school so I can pick up some tractor part or trailer of various shape or size (it’s truly amazing how many trailers there are floating around our farm) while I’m in town. My few students who have spotted me in the rickety suburban found that very funny.

One time last year, I somehow found myself driving a dusty old grain truck home in my high heels with my lunchbox and stack of school books next to me. Mind you, this grain truck has shoddy brakes and questionable turn signals. I downshifted grinding, groaning gears with my cute high heels – and held my breath – for every turn. When I got to my yard, some strange construction equipment blocked my approach, so I parked the truck where I could and trudged through shin-deep mud, the result of a winter thaw. My thoughts toward my practical farmer father were not particularly warm enough to thaw anything at that moment, but I got over it. I also got smarter: I wear boots to school now and pack my high heels in my school bag instead, anytime from November until April or whenever the snow melts. Or anytime there’s even the slightest possibility that I might be driving a grain truck. Then again, I usually can’t predict such things. Ah, the combination of teaching and farming… Exasperating? At times. Worth it? No question about it.

Just stay there until school is over, please!
Just stay there until the school year is over, please!

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