Saturday, the sun foretold a clear and crisp day. The temperature was barely above freezing, but the day held promise anyway. I don’t understand how people in tropical areas know when it’s time to stop coasting, hit the ground running, and get stuff done. Where I live, it’s typically in April, when the birds are singing, the grass is growing, and if you grab a handful of soil, it’s warm to the touch.
We once had a neighbor who decided when to plant corn by gauging whether he could sit comfortably in his field with no pants. Perhaps not scientific, but it seemed to work. The neighbors learned to avoid driving past Eddie and Ralph’s place toward the beginning of May.
But I digress. The day held promise. We had three grandchildren in the house. One and Two were still sleeping upstairs and Three was using my computer. He’s only twelve, but already a little bit of a coffee snob. I was working on a latte for him and singing along with some computer gadget our kids got us for Christmas. Apparently, you can run your whole household with it, but I mostly use it to play obscure songs from the 60’s.
It was a thoughtful morning for me. This week is a milestone, because it’s been 25 years since my first newspaper column was published. The code I use to identify articles I’ve written included the number 1520. That's 1,300 newspaper columns and a couple hundred more articles for other publications. I used to do a lot of writing for United Methodist publications, which wasn’t very lucrative - I did it for free - but even leaving that out, I calculated that I have about a million words out in the great beyond that people saw fit to buy. I find that kind of amazing for a guy who never finished college, who never had a teacher or mentor say, “I think you could be a writer.” A reporter who came to the farm last week, asked why, when I was forty years old, I started writing.
I have no idea.
It seems impossible that I just woke up one morning and said, “Hmm. I think I’m a writer.” But that’s pretty much what happened.
Standing in my kitchen on a bright morning with a house full of slumbering children, an email from an editor about a new book that’s coming out soon, and anticipating a busy day, I was weak-kneed with gratitude. Like most people, my life has been a series of choices and happenstance. For one thing, there’s no reason I’m still alive. During breakfast, I told the kids about my motorcycle accident when I was sixteen. It's a funny story, but any tale that includes, “...and then I was looking down on the headlight from above it and in front of it...” involves some jeopardy. I still remember a lane-changing truck on the Autobahn in Germany that required some improvisational driving on my part, along with no end, literally, of close calls in three decades of farming. As I told a friend who’d lost a finger in an auger, “You know, Dick, there are farmers who are missing fingers and then there are farmers who’ve just been lucky.” I suppose I’ve had a couple hundred stitches in my life, but the big things – cancer, heart attack, addiction issues - up till now I’ve avoided them all.
It wouldn’t have taken much for my life to have followed a different course. I could plausibly be finishing up a career as a junior high social studies teacher or school counselor. Less plausibly, I could be running a flourishing barbecued pork business. Less, because I know my business skills and sometimes my self-confidence writes checks my actual skills can’t cash.
I might possibly have delved deeper into the political world, in which case I’d be wearing a suit and being nice to people I didn’t like.
That's the nightmare scenario.
The life I do lead isn’t perfect. The new book won’t land on the best seller list. The sun is shining today, but there’s a 95% chance of rain tomorrow. I’m enjoying the view out my kitchen window- an acquired taste. It’s not Central Park in New York; rather, it’s an aging shop covered with tin and surrounded by grass that needs trimming. To my right, I don’t see the Caribbean framed by palm trees, just a slough that for some reason the plat book refers to as “Olson Lake.”
So, not perfect.
But pretty darn good.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson