As often happens with old age, gravity had taken its toll and stolen a good two inches from his youthful height of six feet. In addition, it had slightly pulled the shoulders around and down so a straight, upright posture was impossible. The spine also had succumbed to a minor curvature.
Along with the height went most of the hair, replaced generally by a farmer's cap in the heat and a stocking cap in the cold. Underneath was a shiny scalp bearing the marks of dozens of scrapes with hard objects, usually made by augers, row-markers, combines and the like. The top of the ears bore the telltale sign of years of too much time in the sun. Pre-cancerous lesions had been repeatedly removed, leaving their mark as testimony. As if to maintain the décor, all exposed skin had long lost its youthful suppleness and transformed into that leathery, scaly dry texture only gained by years exposed to the elements.
And the hands. They told a story. They had held both the mule reins and the steering wheel. They had grasped the pitchfork, the weeding hoe and the grubbing hoe. They had split wood in the winter and hauled water in the summer. Every weed known to man in this part of the country had at one time been in those hands. Yet they had been gentle enough to hold newborn piglets and soft enough to stroke wet calves. Most every finger had been mashed at least once and some fingernails were set in awkward positions. The skin was parched and cracked with giant crevasses running north and south. A handshake was a brush with sandpaper.
The eyes were deep and full, for they had seen much. They had watched corn dry up in July and peanuts floating in September. The times they had looked to the sky could not be measured. They had seen hurricanes and droughts, hailstorms and rainbows. They could still notice a diseased peanut out of a pickup truck window at fifty-miles per hour on a back road. They could still spot a newborn calf lying low far off in the pasture separated from his mother. Those eyes had seen much death and much life. And though they had lost some of their youthful luster, that old gleam still appeared as a new crop year approached.
Chainsaws, open tractors and screaming hungry hogs had taken their toll on the hearing, but the ears still possessed the ability to hear the first, distant rumble of a thunderstorm out to the west on a hot, August afternoon.
The walk was a step developed from that sense of urgency so common to those tied to the land: long, forceful deliberate steps with a definite destination in mind toward the task at hand. Young children must run to keep up. Though not quite as brisk these days, those steps were still there as a carryover from the past, especially during the planting season.
And so, without uttering a word, without making a sound, the mere presence of that old farmer shouted out a message. But only to those who had ears to hear it.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun