photo: De Ann Paulsrud
There was my old classmate and farmer friend standing at the front of the church, fighting back tears, and pulling a small piece of paper from his pocket to read from. Next to him at the lectern he had placed a rusty old bucket.
He composed himself and told the “old milk bucket story,” a eulogy to his father, who had passed away three days ago. His dad, Fred Paulsrud, was a farmer who lived out his 85 years in good standing with the land, his family, neighbors and friends.
Ted recalled his dad milking cows many years ago with that old bucket, how many he could fill with his big strong hands, a cat or two coming by to lick up the frothy overflow. That rusty old bucket was once all shiny new, he said.
And, Fred, in ill health for a number of years before his death was once a hardy and innovative farmer. He was part of a generation of farmers who progressed from buckets and pitchforks to technologies like embryo transplants and global positioning systems.
I remembered interviewing him for a farm magazine story I wrote back in the early eighties. It was a little intimidating. We called him “Big Fred,” not so much for his size as for his gravity. He was a no-nonsense fellow who I figured could spot a wrong word a mile away, like a broadleaf weed in a bean field.
Ted spent the morning of the day of the funeral pondering what he was going to say in tribute to his father. While feeding cattle, fixing fence, and moving hay, he thought about his dad and what words would work to do him justice. They came a little at a time, like the years in a lifetime.
It all came down to that rusty bucket, once new, and a prayer he wrote for his dad while doing chores.
When we’re gone, it’s good to remembered for when we were young and strong—and with a prayer.