About six months ago, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. It was a shock to realize that virtually every farm related disaster I have ever experienced was preceded by these same four little words, “It will be fine.”
As I was looking at the back of my combine, one wheel flopped over horizontal on the ground, the freshly-torn, broken, jagged face of very heavy, assumedly unbreakable steel shining in the sun, it came to me. It was like, suddenly everything fell in to place. It was so clear! I vividly remembered: when I looked this machine over two months ago on the dealer’s lot, I inspected this very part, a part friends told me would occasionally fail. I could again hear the thoughts that were in my head back then. “It looks OK, it should be fine,” I said to myself. And fresh on top of that, I remembered yesterday when I got off to a late start, I looked at the half full fuel gage and said, “it should be enough. It will be fine.” That is how I ended up walking back to the fuel truck and spending . . . how long was it? Over an hour struggling to bleed the air out of the diesel engine and get it started again?
I realized that in one version or another, I had heard those same words in my head countless times, often actually saying them out loud, when disaster was actually lurking, just over the horizon of time. Oh, some were minor disasters, of course, the little ones that take minutes and maybe a couple of bolts or a few turns of a wrench to overcome, but some have been the full-grown, prime-of-health, strapping-big disasters that take days or even weeks and leave all kinds of permanent scars in metal, flesh, and psyches, not to mention financial scars in my bank accounts.
The list of unheeded warnings is long and the variations are many. It should hold. It should ride right there just fine. It won’t fall off, it will be fine. It’s worn a bit, but it should be fine. It will be fine right there, it won’t be in the way. The retainer is gone off that pin, but I don’t have far to go, it won’t come out, so it should be fine. That ought to be tight enough, it will be fine. It’s a little overfull/under full, it should be fine. It should be fine if I leave it/move it right there, it won’t get run over. It should last through spring work/harvest/fall planting, it will be fine. I’m getting close to the fence/power pole/gate/barn/pickup/grain bin/truck, but I think it will miss, it will be FINE – don’t want to leave a bunch of weeds growing/grain standing there!. Notice that ‘wife’s car’ is not in that list of things I have run into with farm equipment; my optimism does, apparently, have limits.
I was explaining this awesome revelation to my wife that night, that I could anticipate disaster just by listening for those 4 little words. She thought about it a moment and said, “Yes. It’s just like that other thing you always say.” For the life of me, I had no idea what she might be talking about. In response to my dumbfounded look, she smiled and said, “It shouldn’t take that long.” Wow, still more evidence of my prophetic powers.
My time estimates have been a standing family joke for a long time. “I’m going to run over to Harold’s and look at the wheat. It shouldn’t take that long.” Not unless you have to stop and help a neighbor untangle his sprayer boom, or you find a raging rust disease epidemic and have to shuttle fungicide from the dealer to the air strip because the pilot can do it this afternoon. Or you remember that other chore that, “will be real quick,” that you have been meaning to do. Next thing you know, you can’t see to do that quick little, “won’t take long,” chore because the sun has gone down. And you know in that moment, beyond a shadow of doubt, that when you get back in cell coverage, there will be four text messages and two voice mails. And you know what they say before you read them: “did you forget _____ at ____?” followed 20 minutes later by “It is at 2:00, so I am going without you, see you there, if you get this.”
Now, apparently there is another ‘standing-family-joke’, though I still haven’t gotten used to it. On my way out the door to a farm bill appointment at USDA’s Farm Service Agency last week, my wife asked me if I needed to take anything else with me. “No, I think I put everything I need in this folder last night.” Without even thinking, I added, “this should be fine.” She just smiled and said, “It will be fine, and it won’t take very long.” Needless to say, I am going back to the Farm Service Agency next week to take the things I didn’t have at the first appointment. I think my friend Alex McGregor is right when he says that in spite of what they may say, farmers are the eternal optimists. Even though experience should teach me otherwise, I think 2015 will be fine.