At 7 months, I sat in my car seat in the walk of our family farm watching Dad milk his Registered Holstein herd.
At 7 years, I followed my Dad from chore to chore and began to scrape the walk.
At 17, I had most farm chores and tasks under my belt but still followed Dad around the farm.
Whether I was a step behind my Dad to help fix the silo or stride in stride with him merely to talk, I continue to learn from the best. And that’s where it truly begins, ladies and gentlemen. It starts at home with your family.
My Dad grew up the same way, following his father around the farm until the day he retired.
His father, Joseph Orville Sarbacker, founded Fischerdale Holsteins, our family farm, and spent the rest of his life on the farm. He was frequently recognized for his contributions to the dairy industry and the establishment of an outstanding Holstein herd.
Sadly, Joe Sarbacker was recently recognized for a different reason, having passed away August 2, 2011. But he wasn’t just my Grandpa. He was a devoted husband, a father, a brother, a cousin and a friend.
Growing up on a Registered Holstein farm, I have learned valuable lessons and timeless pieces of wisdom. I have had an opportunity since third grade to exhibit and show our Holsteins at county, district and state fairs.
My first was the District Show the summer before fourth grade in Janesville. I had spent my free time when school got out working with, washing and leading Fischerdale Charles Rella. She was my snow-white baby. Although I knew her, she knew me and she led like a charm, I was so incredibly nervous when I entered the show ring that summer morning.
But my fears soon dissolved as I saw my Grandma and Grandpa sitting in the small set of bleachers across the ring.
And I’ve been fortunate to have that support my entire life. Whether it was praise over a report card or a blue ribbon from a show, every day during the summer I got to sit down with the man who started it all.
Now, I don’t know much about crops or soil or planting. But conversation never grew dull; whether it was a “long, long time ago story” or our shocking awe over the “Bold and the Beautiful,” our noon-time soap opera, he always kept lunch interesting.
All this conversation did not take place daily, for my Grandpa was a rather quiet man. But I think sometimes silence speaks louder than words. The moments of silence emphasize our understanding of the same world, the same fields, the same cows and the same mile markers in our lives.
I don’t think life is always black and white. Sometimes there’s a grey area, where confusion tends to lie. That gray area often surrounds death. No one quite knows what’s right and what’s wrong.
That gray area is a time for reflecting. A time for memories. A time for working with the puzzle pieces for our future. Those memories you reflect on are treasures. They are something you can hold onto and keep forever.
My birthday is right in the middle of fall, November 4. Some years it’s been warm enough to lounge in shorts; other years we have snow shovels to clean off the porch. But no matter the weather conditions, my Grandpa has been at every single birthday party.
Those are my strongest memories; whether it was learning to play euchre across the hard wood kitchen table, hearing the chorus of voices sing out of sync or hearing one of his stories. Even in his last years, when health concerns caused him to run downhill, my Grandpa would never pass up a chance to tell a good story or memory.
When visiting my Grandpa at Hospice Care in Fitchburg, we tried to do the same for him. As I held his hand, I would tell him about my recent pig wrestling adventure, the show string and the weather outside. Even though he was resting his eyes and maybe not responding, his grip around my hand proved he was listening and hearing our stories.
And his presence will never be gone.
On the afternoon of August 2, 2011 we were baling straw. The entire day had seemed to be threatening rain, but for whatever reason it held off. Around 4 o’clock, in the middle of a load, it began to rain. Somehow, I knew it was my Grandpa leaving us.
A short while later, the sun began to shine, and I knew he was telling us that he is alright. He was letting us know that he was looking down on us.
Though we won’t be able to exchange memories or swap stories, we now have another guardian angel among us. And I can guarantee that he will never miss a single cattle show.
Whether he’s on the end of the halter guiding our hands, or helping God figure out the weather, he’s a farmer at heart. Joesph Orville Sarbacker defines the term family man. And that’s what he will continue to be.