Dec 2, 2021
NCAE column: Farm, ranch community exudes essence of America

When I was seven years old, my best friend moved to town.

His father was the minister of the local church that stood in gleaming white reflecting the bright Wyoming sunlight just a block off main street, or the highway as visitors called it. The structure had been built some time ago of brick and block with a tall steeple that overlooked the elementary school playground next door. The chime of the church bells tolled each hour, or thereabouts, and could be heard from all over town reminding residents of passing time.

The church was a centerpiece of our little farm and ranch community and flourished each Sunday. The parking lot in the back filled with cars, pickups adorned with gun racks in the back windows, and station wagons, having disgorged their occupants in their Sunday best at the front door. If anyone had ever checked the parked vehicles, I would guess they would find that few of the doors were locked. Just like the doors on the homes.

The church was a place of community for our town.

In addition to hosting the annual turkey dinner fundraiser, where all of us local kids bussed tables and fetched refills of water for guests, the adults washing dishes and carving up turkeys after mashing potatoes and cooking the green beans just right, it served many spiritual purposes as well. And my friend’s family was always in the middle of it, living in the small church manse adjacent to the church.

The minister and his family were always some of the first to share the glory whenever a baby was born. They were also among the first to hear when a member of the town or surrounding environs was seriously ill. And of course, they were among the first to learn of and lend comfort to families grieving the loss of a member.

The community celebrated baptisms at the church and weddings, too. In fact, my great grandmother remarried in that church six or so years after Poppa passed away. My parents were witnesses and my buddy’s dad officiated over the ceremony.

And, if you were a kid attending Sunday school near Christmas time at the church, you might even get a surprise visit from Saint Nick! More reason to heed the teacher’s admonishment to avoid being naughty. You know, it was sure funny how Santa’s voice sounded a lot like Ivan Whipple. Ivan was the lineman for the rural electric company who lived in the red brick house down the street.

It was also the place where the community came together when tragedy struck. When I was in high school, a boy who was a year ahead of me in school, lost control of his car and crashed. The accident killed him.

School was let out early on the day of the funeral, held at the church. My friend and another classmate of mine sang at the service. A pretty girl from the class behind ours sat next to me in the pew that sad day. Whenever I catch a whiff of the perfume she was wearing, my mind wanders back to that afternoon. Probably needless to say, it’s not a favorite scent.

Other towns across rural America have their own places of community like that church. They all have places where residents come together to celebrate, share, live, laugh, love and sometimes mourn. Those kinds of places sort of bind people to one another in shared experience.

As most crops are now harvested and put away, and as darkness will continue to dominate days until just past mid-December in our hemisphere, those places of community will fill once again. But places like that church will continue to call to its community like a beacon of light through even the darkest days. Families will gather with extended family; meals will be shared with neighbors and people will gather to celebrate the holidays with extended community. I am even willing to bet that in some other small town, there is another seven-year-old who will meet his own best friend.

The community of farm and ranch country is something to be rejoiced in and is one of the finest things about America.

Rejoice!

— Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers


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