Perhaps I should have been insulted.
But I knew the lady meant no harm by expressing her astonishment that someone would actually pay me to drive around the Southwest talking to farmers. Truth be told, I'm sometimes astonished myself.
We were spending the weekend recently in a cabin near one of my favorite trout fisheries, in Southeast Oklahoma. My friend was discussing with a contractor the possibility of building a cabin of his own. (We can hardly wait!) His wife, my wife and I were visiting with the contractor's wife — small talk, chitchat, just gabbing. We were trying to come up with an appropriate name for their cabin, when they get it built. Someone, not me, mentioned that I am a writer and should be able to turn up a creative moniker for the cabin with little or no effort, just a brief tapping into the creative recesses of my mind. Right. Some people give me a lot more credit than I deserve, or can live up to. I made several smart aleck suggestions.
The contractor's wife then asked what kind of writing I do. I explained that I am an agricultural journalist, a description that always begs for more explanation, which I usually provide by telling folks that I travel around the Southwest talking to farmers and writing their stories.
“Do you do that as a hobby or do you get paid for it?” she asked.
Maybe I should have been insulted. I wasn't.
“That's my job,” I explained. “I make a living doing that. I've made a living at it for going on 30 years now.”
She interrupted the negotiations going on in the kitchen between my friend and her husband, the contractor.
“Guess what Ron does for a living. He's a writer. And he writes about farmers. And he gets paid for it,” she said, astonishment evident in her demeanor.
I explained that I had been lucky enough to stumble into this profession back in 1976, with nothing more than a Masters Degree in English Literature and a few years as a weekly newspaper reporter to recommend me for the job. I was as green as a wheat field in March, limited in actual farm knowledge but willing to figure it out.
I'm still working on it, trying to figure out how farmers do what they do, sometimes wondering why they do what they do and often frustrated that legislators, consumers and government officials fail to understand how important what they do is to the well-being and security of all of us.
I never met one who relished the idea of government payments. But I have and continue to defend the programs in place that allow them to stay on the farm.
I can't begin to imagine how many farmers I've talked to and written about in 30 years. A bunch. And I consider many of them friends, folks I worry about when times get bad, when rain fails to fall or falls too much or when hail or wind threaten their livelihoods. I admire them, respect them and honor them for the sacrifices they make and the labor they perform.
And I am privileged to have the opportunity to drive around the Southwest talking to them and telling their stories.
But I'll keep cashing the checks.