His name was Burton . He was 37 years older than I. He was living in our farming community the day that I was brought home from the hospital. We four kids grew up knowing Burt as the friendly kind neighbor who stopped by the farm and sold seed corn to my Dad (Amcorn) and drank a lot of coffee. I grew knowing him as the old white haired guy.
Alas, as is the story, time changes EVERYTHING. When I was 18,Burt was 55 at this time. He stopped by our family farmhouse one week day and ask if my Dad was home. When I told him he would be soon he ran to town. Burt seemed pretty disappointed. “Well.”….I remember him saying as he rubbed his chin back and forth with his large hand..” Your dad told me I could use his welder and I really need to get this part welded and back on the corn picker.” I smile and said “I can hook you up with the welder. ”
This act in itself was hilarious. My folks were in the middle of remodeling the kitchen and while they waited for moms double wall ovens to come in Dad had hooked up the old stove in the basement so we still had an oven. Mind you we had to go from the kitchen, through the dining room, through the new living room and down the stairs to the new part of the basement to use it. Allow me to just add to this hilarity that baking cookies was an Olympic workout.
I unhooked the stove and pushed the wire up through the basement window to Burt who was standing outside in the driveway to retrieve it. That is all there was to that story. Burt always told me it was then that he saw me as a grown person and not the daughter of that farm couple down the road.
CIRCA 1983. My husband and I had just had our first baby. A sweet little girl born on Easter Sunday. What a Blessing. I took that as a special gift from God, not just our baby girl but that she was born early Easter morn. That next week…on the way home from visiting my parents I was driving past Burt’s farm and he was walking on the road. I pulled the old diesel truck over and he opened the door, and I said “Hey Burt, look what the Easter Bunny brought us”. OF course he made over our little bundle as do most polite people, but there was a spark in His eyes as he looked her over. Again, here come that large hand with long over stuffed looking fingers and he so gently reached up to touch her hand and she grabbed ahold of his finger…and he beamed.
I told him he needed to come by my house sometime for coffee whenever he was in my neck of the woods. (Which was just the next town over 8 miles). And He did. In fact Burt came to my house at least twice a week for coffee for over twenty six years! We were like soul mates. Best Friends. We enjoyed so many of the same things in common, and we could talk for hours and never run out of things to say. And oh what a celebration on a rainy day because that meant two pots of coffee or more. He introduced me to photography and the world always seemed brighter when looking through his lens.
Two more babies were born, and still Burt was around. He seemed to enjoy our children. There was a time when my Dad had a slipped disc in his back and early mornings Burt would come to my old trailer and watch my three babies so I could run down to my dads and do his morning chores for him. For a man that had never had babies of his own…this was a wild adventure. We laughed about some of those moments over and over again.
In l990 Burt’s wife of 44 years passed. She was never happy on the farm in all those years and used alcohol to console her disappointment. There were no children. She spent those years sleeping in the downstairs of the home and Burt spent those years sleeping up stairs. Shortly after her death Burt ask me if I could help him try to clean up his house a little bit. It had been 44 years of accumulated debris and cats and NOTHING had ever been swept or thrown away. It was a two year process. Still, no matter the dirt and mess I enjoyed sitting in Burts home drinking coffee with him and listening to his stories of growing up on that farm. His parents owned it before he did.
In the Spring of 1994 Burt came to me and said he wanted to sell his 200 acre farm and he did not want any of the bigger area farmers to have it. He was from the old school and he loved the older way of doing things. He knew I had no money. We truly were as poor as any church mice you could have ever come across and only GOD KNOWS how we survived. So he told me what he wanted for the place, and offered me a land contract with a dollar down. (Not only is that unheard of…..but it has been and will always be the best gift of in my life second only to our babies). Burt was to marry his high school sweetheart and he was moving to Indiana. He 68 years old.
Twenty years have come and gone since then. We took this old ram shackled house and turned it into a happy little farmhouse. Its clean, comfortable and country. When we bought the land and later had it all assessed so we could purchase some equipment they would not even put a value on the house,. It had been neglected for 44 years and over 70 cats were living in this house at one time. When we moved into the house (April 1994) and I started to clean the master bedroom upstairs in order to live in it , I carried 5 gal buckets of dried cat manure out of the master bedroom alone. People have NO IDEA how much physical work has gone into this house. We hired nothing done as it was too costly. Hubby worked away and did not wish to partake of any renovations. So I learned to plaster, plumb, remove, repair, replace windows, sub floors, build decks. I put the crops in during the spring and I harvested them in the fall. My husband worked off our farm for a larger farmer. Several times I was sure I would be in traction by the time I was 50. The load was staggering.
The farm in 1940 (top left) then 1990 (Top Right) . Bottom …the Farm as she stands today!
As renovations and clean up were under way Burt was drinking coffee in my house again, but it used to be his house. He loved it. And he would tell me over and over again that some of the changes took his breath away cause that’s how his parents used to do this or that. He kept saying “I bet my parents are so proud of how you have brought life back to this old place…and I bet they shook their head at me in shame”…..
James McNutt And Gladys (Flagg) Stafford had this dream for only 10 years. Burt’s Dad died in town one day in 1946. His mom lived her a total of 14 years and she left to live in Texas with Burtons Older brother Jim. Burt lived on this farm from 1936 to 1994—that was 58 years. We have lived here for 23 years as of this writing. What a privilege to share in another mans dream or vision. God Bless James M. Stafford Sr. I pray we all made him proud.
Burt ALWAYS believed in preserving the land and while the house he allowed his wife to control, the land he kept on top of. Nutrients and such.
For 28 years Burt sent me cards and hand written letters. Filled with politics, feelings, news, opinions, dreams and wishes. I treasured those letters when they arrived and kept every one.
In 2009, Burt was terribly sick, and he wanted to come home to die. His second wife said she could not do it by herself and did not want to go through all that again as she had with her first husband. So, I promised if we could bring him home to pass that I would stay until it was over, and she would never have to administer anything and I would not leave till it was all over.
And I never did. Not even to run to the store. I stayed two weeks and was Burts HOSPICE team. I never dreamed in all the years that we had coffee, the bonding that brought us so close together that I would be the one changing his cath bag, rubbing his nothing but bones body with lotion while he cried over and over from pain. That I would be the one administering the morphine every couple hours. The death pain is an awful one, and the suffering makes no sense to me, I was always on one side of him and his wife was on the other. He kept calling us his Angels and he would hold both of our hands and hug us both at the same time and kept thanking us both for working together and loving him as we did. His wife was wonderfully precious and I will be forever grateful that she allowed me to be there and do that for Burton. He kept crying and asking us “why wont the Lord just take me, I’m ready to go, I want out of this pain and suffering”. Our hearts were so heavy as we tried to explain the Lord was just preparing the place for him on HIS time table.
I was sitting at the end of his bed, my hand on his shin and listening to some other men talking who were there to see Burt when I felt the life leave his body. Finally. No more suffering for him. I prepared his body for the Coroner, I put on his clean pajamas, and held his eyes closed till they stayed on their own. And I realize that some who read this will not understand those things you have to do. I never dreamed I would be the one to record and write his time of death on his certificate. A part of my heart died that day. Burt had become my mother, my sister, my brother, my father, my best friend…..I will never be the same. There is a part of me that wont regrow, I wont be able to regift it to someone else, or build it back….. because I buried it with Burt. In Crane cemetery, a stones throw from this farm. His Parents farm, His farm, Our Farm. His loving kindness, much like that of Jesus…was unconditional, nothing I earned or deserved but he never faltered in giving in and showing it to me.
Holding a hand as it slips from this world, is an entire post all on its own. I wouldn’t have missed being there with Burt for the world. I wouldn’t have missed loving him, and sharing his life and when you love and share completely..unconditionally..then you realize that it doesn’t just mean when there is an occasional rain storm…it means even IN DEATH.
This photo is not pretty of Dear Burt or myself. Theses were some pretty dark days, a lot of nights full of pain and broken hearts, a lot of tears and hugs, and little to no sleep. Some nights laughter filled the room till early morning light and it felt like a slumber party and other times the silence was deafening. The waiting was excruciating ….death is exhausting….. And given the choice………. I would do it all over again. For Him.
I am a better woman today because He first loved me. Because He saw something in me and through him I saw something in myself too. What a gift he left me with. What a gift this farm has been for me, for our three babies all grown up and now our eleven grand babies get to come here and play and walk around a farm that is still plowing the old fashioned way. Still growing corn without all the sprays and picking ear corn and off loading it into corn cribs instead of taking it to a local mill
The last couple days I have been out in the fields plowing with my OLIVER (not john deere) tractor and it takes me an entire day to get across a 20 acre field that the BIG BOYS cut through in 30 minutes. I am in an open station, where the big boys are all in sound proof cabs with radios and computers. But that’s ok. I hear things better, I feel the sun and wind on my face, I love the smell of dirt and diesel and breathing in the fragrant Spring as it comes to life.
And I WEAR HIS COAT. Burt’s chore coat. Its way too big on me, generally I have to put a sweat shirt under it. Its as old and antiquated as my tractor, as old me too , no doubt. But I wear it anyway….I wear it because this was his parents dream, then it was his dream, and now its been my dream for the last 21 years….and I am thankful that GOD saw fit to bring into my life a person that truly showed me Unconditional Love and acceptance, Grace, and giving.
I WEAR HIS COAT to feel closer to him, and I hope somehow he can see me wearing It…and can feel how much I miss him…and how precious he was to me and always will be.