Shortly after we moved from Minneapolis to 20 acres with the half-baked idea of becoming farmers, we made a wise decision. We bought a dehumidifier for our house. It wasn’t just any dehumidifier. It was being sold by Chuck Petersen, who grew up on an Iowa farm and fixed up old tractors just for fun. My husband Ian took hours picking up that dehumidifier because he and Chuck started chatting.
So Chuck became part of our lives. He helped us build our farm by coming over to fix tractors or load hogs into a trailer or build chicken coops or help plan a new line of fencing. When he wasn’t here, he was often on the phone. Ian said he sometimes called Chuck 10 times a day, and even on the 10th time, Chuck sounded happy to hear from him.
We valued his practical advice. When Ian and I were trying to make a farming decision, large or small, I would inevitably ask, “What did Chuck think we should do?” assuming, of course, that Chuck had been consulted. When I had an answer to that question, I would say, “Well, if Chuck thinks that’s the way to go, we had better do it.” And we did.
At Chuck’s funeral today, Ian remembered some of his less technical advice. One time, when we were at some kind of crossroads about the farm, Chuck told Ian to go home, take hold of my hands, look into my eyes, and talk about what both of us want.
Ian also remembered that when he felt he had done something terribly wrong, which happens quite frequently to new farmers, he would call Chuck, who would always remember something that he or his father had done that was worse. Soon Ian would be laughing again. On days like that, I sometimes wondered what it would be like for us when Chuck was no longer around.
We don’t know yet what it is like to live without him. It’s been less than a week since he passed, and it still feels like he is with us somehow. On the evening that we got the news, Ian and I sat silently on the couch with Merle Haggard playing softly in the background, and I felt a deep stillness and groundedness in the presence of my husband. This is not what I had expected on such a sad night, and I sat there beside him trying to understand what I was sensing.
I believe that I was feeling some of the gifts Chuck gave to my husband. The first gift was creating a place for Ian in a long line of men who have loved both land and machines. This is a place of honor and strength. The second gift he gave my husband was a generous and encouraging love that never wavered in the face of hardship or uncertainty or embarrassment. That love is part of my husband now and forever.