The Footsteps We Walk In

Sorry…no pictures of me weeding today. I know, I know…they’re such a hit! 😉

Today’s workday was more than just about what was happening in the moment. That’s always the case, but I was able to snap two picts that demonstrate what I mean. My Dad, as well as all my brothers (Mike, Devin and Dave) have been a big help over the years with projects, particularly my brother Mike. When I can’t be there to adjust a timer or make sure X is doing Y, he steps in for me. My brother Devin has helped on too many occasions to count, from stringing cable, flame weeding and everything in between. My brother Dave, as he lives closer to us down in State College, doesn’t get up to the Farm as much, but has always been a big help. He helped us get the high tunnel finished up a few years back.

My Mom and sisters have also been huge supporters. They may not be out there physically with me in the fields, but I can feel their support in many other ways. My Mom for instance is forever making sure I eat and drink enough out there. Because of my compressed timeframe there at the Farm, I skip lunch and work straight from Breakfast to dinner, which isn’t usually until 8 or even 9pm. Even when I’ve eaten on the drive up from State College, I feel it pretty important to sit and grab a bite to eat with Mom and Dad at the table before heading out. My sisters Amy and Mandy both live outside of town now, so I don’t get to see them as much as my brothers. They are always immensely supportive of our efforts with the Farm and that can be just as helpful as kneeling down with me in the rows weeding and stringing hops.

As I’ve said before, we weren’t a “Farming Family” before this endeavor. The land the Farm is on was my Mom’s parents, Ray and Helen Hoffman, for whom the Farm is named in honor of. It was Farmed prior to them purchasing the property back in the 50’s…the horse drawn implements still sit rusting in the treeline near the small hopyard.

My Dad came from the “Post War Cohort”. Like many families in Saint Marys, he was one of a large number…eight in his case. To boot, starting in his pre-adult years, his Father (my Grandpa Brock) left my Grandmother Edna to raise and support those eight kids on her own. I can’t even imagine the stress. Like his siblings, he worked in addition to going to school, from grade school all through college. Weekends from Penn State would be spent back here in Saint Marys working at Ivan’s clothing shop, and even after graduation, I believe Dad was still working there on weekends. The owner of the store, Ivan Herzing, paid my Father’s tuition at Penn State in return for Dad working on the floor. When the debt was paid, Dad could go back to his full-time job at Keystone Carbon Company.

That institution is a story all by itself as my Grandpa Hoffman worked there, as did my Dad, my uncles David and Roger Hoffman, and all my brothers and I at one time or another. A family-owned business up until about 20 years ago, Keystone (like many of the locally owned powdered metal plants) employed thousands of us locally, donated to and supported the schools, parks and institutions. They didn’t feel the need to slap the corporate logo on things as is the case nowadays with the larger, national companies. Most of their support was done behind the scenes that most of us didn’t find out about until far removed from the fact.

So jump forward to today and as I was prepping my tools to head up to begin the day in the hopyards. Dad was out sweeping the tennis court. Because of the deterioration of Dad’s eyesight these past few years, he doesn’t play anymore. It was a game he and my Mom enjoyed together as a doubles team, and as well for singles competitions for years. My buddies Scott Burden and Harry Lang helped my Dad and I put that court in the Summer after my Senior year in high school. Dear friends of the family, Joe and Mary DiMendi, had this court at their place in town. When they passed, Dad wanted to continue the tradition, so we hauled the HarTru from town out to the Farm. This wasn’t long after we’d moved out from town ourselves when my Grandpa Hoffman died in 1988. My folks had a plaque made in their honor that hangs on the court to this day.

Even not being able to play the game anymore, Dad still gets out everyday for a walk, or to work on the court, or when I’m up, to lend a hand however he can. So it was inspirational of sorts to see him still working the court even to this day. Brought to mind the quote, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” As such, it was an image I wanted to capture.

Dad Still Doing His Thing

With the tractor not wanting to start (I later determined the issue), it meant…you guessed it..a day of weeding AND weed-whacking! The later is somewhat “relaxing” after hand weeding, and it also helps blow off some steam knocking weeds into oblivion with ease. Now one does have to be quite careful as you’re moving this fast-moving whip inches away from the bines that you want to continue to grow harvest. Now I won’t say I’ve never accidentally sliced one because that’d be a total lie…but I’ve become quite adept at navigating around them after doing the closeup work by hand.

Under Cooler Skies

And to continue the theme for the day…things outside of Farming that influence you whilst Farming…our neighbor Earl from down the way on Taft Road, was up for his daily daily walk on the property. Not a problem…happy for others to enjoy the land, as long as they do it responsibly and don’t degrade or maul it up (that’s for another day’s post!). Earl is a great guy…older fella, around my Dad’s age. His wife is homebound with dementia so he tends to her each and every day. He does get out for an hour or so to enjoy a walk and that’s where I usually run into him on Saturday mornings.

I typically meet him at the end of his walk as he parks his car near the large hopyard. Well today, with the tractor not starting and a few hours of weeding ahead of me, I was determined to tell him, “Earl…I’m sorry but I’m already behind, I just don’t have time to chat today.” And by chat, I mean a 30-45 conversation. I’ve learned to keep working while we talk 😉

So I quickly donned my protective gear, including earplugs, helmet and visor and fired up the weed whacker…loud as all get out, surely Earl won’t swing by as he’ll see me immersed in this noisy and disruptive chore. Nope…3 minutes into it, who was standing a few feet away…Earl 😉

I killed the engine and lifted one of the ear protectors as well as the protective visor and began the weekly chat. Smart guy, very inquisitive…I’ve seen him pretty much every weekend of this season so he’s asked questions about every stage of the process and gotten a tutorial direct from the source. We chat about other things as well, his life before retiring and before his wife developed dementia. He’s known my parents and my Grandparents long before I arrived on this Earth.

We stood there chatting in the cool, 60-degree temps, mild winds and intermittent rain. The remnants of Tropical Storm Fay was making its way up the East Coast and brought delightful working weather, at least in my opinion. There’s always that moment where Earl says, “Well I’ve kept you from your work long enough…” and then chats for another 15 minutes, and that happened twice 😉 But when it was time for him to go, as the rains were coming down full speed, he stopped and said to me heartfelt, “You know, I really enjoy these talks we have…I really appreciate it, thank you – I learn alot”.

Talkst amongst yourselves…

I had to take a minute after he left to get back into work mode.

Dad Making the Trek Back

I returned to my work…hand weeding for awhile, go back and follow up with the weed whacker, repeat ad infinitum. I was so happy for the change in the weather so it wasn’t too bad. A few hours later, Dad stopped up on his daily walk to check things out. He’s my steward in the large hopyard to make sure things appear to be in place when I can’t be there. We chatted for a few minutes about what I was working on and then he headed back down towards the Barn through the field. It’s about a .8 mile walk back to the Barn, not terrible but there are times even I don’t like to make it, so I get concerned with my Dad making the trek but he’s determined to do it…each and every day.

And so, with the large life-lessons life brought to my doorstep today, it made the work just a bit easier. I didn’t finish all the projects I’d wanted to…I never do…but it brought life back into perspective as a whole. His, my Mom’s, my siblings’…they’re all footsteps I walk in every day, while Farming as well as life in general and I am grateful for that every single day.

Not where I’d like them to be, but such is life…

3 Comments on “The Footsteps We Walk In

  1. Love you brother! Your are awesome❤️❤️ Thank you for writing and sharing this! Puts all of this chaos in a much better perspective!

  2. I love this article! I could not agree more with your perspective on life and it’s subtle lessons. I love working the land as well. Best time of the day is after I see patients, I sink my hands into the earth and focus on my plant babies. There’s something religious about spending time in nature. Also love how you describe your family, and I remember how your mom and dad loved tennis. I need to come see your bines. Love the smell!! Glad you’re perusing a passion!

  3. Love reading this! Your parents are two very special people! So important to take time to stop and smell the roses, well in your case the “hops”. I enjoyed my time there the day, when I help pick “ a few”! It was so relaxing and enjoyed the conversation! Keep up the great work, and make more memories with them! Life is precious!
    You are a great son, and have wonderful siblings!

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