Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A passing of a local

This has been on my mind for a week or so.

Last week I was filling the feed truck with DDGS, ready to go deliver some to a customer. I get a call from his number, but I missed it, and it went to voice mail. Instead of checking the message, I called back. He didn't come on the line, but a person who had been staying with him. I asked if Lee was there.

She replied that Lee had killed himself Saturday.

I was stunned. I had left voice messages for him on Friday and Saturday with the current prices of DDGS for him, so when the message came in on Monday morning, I thought it would be him, telling me to bring a load up.

But, instead I learn that he shot and killed himself with a .22 pistol Saturday afternoon. When the friend arrive back to the farm, she found him still barely alive (I guess a .22 will not do the job completely), but he soon passed on.

He had mentioned to a friend a few days before that he just didn't know if life was worth living.

Lee lived on a dead-end road outside of Lucas. He was in his 70's, and other than the female friend that stayed with him, he had no other family around. His wife had run off with a low-life years ago, and his children had nothing to do with him. He bought "junk" calves at area sale barns, calves that were partially blind, limps, or other problems that made them not suitable for the feedlots. He'd buy a few at a time, load them up in his old Ford truck, and bring them home.

On a few occasions, when I'd bring him feed, I'd either see turkey buzzards circling the place, or a half-dead calf laying nearby the feed wagon, waiting to die.

He had worn out equipment, hauled corn from the elevator is an old truck,and would hand scoop the corn and DDGS into an old grinder mixer to make feed for the calves. That's a lot of work for a 70+ year old to be doing, but he did it.

The last time I talked to him, I brought up some mineral in my pickup truck. I unloaded them into his truck, and we talked for a while outside. The cold winds were blowing, so we got in my truck and talked. We discussed what he got for his fed calves at Denison, the possibility of putting some of his ground into soybeans for next year, and his possible need of some cornstalk bales that I had for sale. It was the most we'd talked for a long time.

While he wasn't what you'd consider a shining star in the community or a model farmer, he was a fellow human. I grew to enjoy listening to his contrarian viewpoints; it helped keep me grounded. He paid his bills, so I have no complaints in that department.

I suppose he got tired of the higher feed and purchase calf costs, cold and frozen winter, calves dying on him, and the lower prices he was getting at market. Maybe he figured that he had no other way out, that he didn't have any savings or retirement to fall back on. Maybe he was too proud.

I can't agree with what he did, however. Of course, we'd all say "Why didn't he reach out? I would have helped him!", but you know a guy like that isn't going to take a handout. I once gave him a plastic tarp to cover his wagon that held the DDGS in. He didn't want it, but I insisted. That tarp remained laying to the side of the wagon from then on. Lee didn't want to be seen as a charity case.

So closes the chapter on the life of a local farmer.


Anonymous rightsaidfred said...

That is a touching story.

12:00 PM, January 23, 2008  

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