My father used to tell me, it’s not just what you do, but how you do it. I used to hear that the most when I had some work to do and I really wanted to be doing something else. Once he had asked me to fix the pulleys in the haymow in the barn. It was springtime and the haymow was about empty and that meant you could use those pulleys for their best use, which was swinging on them. The pulleys were used to bring the hay into barn from the wagon when we harvested it, or to pull it down over the winter to give it to the cattle. We still kept some cattle when I was young. But it was best when most of the hay was gone because you could swing the width of the barn. It was as good a swing as I ever saw anywhere. So, anyway, this particular time, I wanted to get the fixing done quickly so I could swing on it. Well, I had worked it so that at least it would stay together. My brother and I were taking turns on the rope. We must have been having too much fun because I didn’t hear my dad come in but then there he was. My brother was on the rope just then and he dropped off with a sudden flop, like ooof! Y’know? And my dad was standing there looking down at us. My brother was on the ground with the wind knocked out of him and I was reaching down to help him up. I don’t know how he knew, but my dad reached over to the rope and the whole thing came back apart. That’s when he said what I knew he’d say. “It’s not about getting it done, it’s about doing it right.” Then he helped us up and said, “Do it right this time.” Then he smiled. He never could stay mad long enough. I think he was laughing to himself as he walked back out of the barn.
That was always his highest compliment of another man. “He does it the right way.” During the terrible years of the drought, back when I was a young boy, when so many were barely getting by and some were leaving, that was still his measure of a man, whether he did things the right way or he “cheated.” I never quite understood how it could be cheating, when you were talking about trying to win against Mother Nature, who wasn’t exactly cooperating with us, sending rain or cool air or anything but white-hot bone dry weather. But that’s how he said it. He always said the best things about old Mr. Amundson, who somehow was managing through those years. Helped out lots of neighbors, got his family fed, didn’t get caught up in extravagances. I remember he didn’t have a radio. Didn’t do much for himself, but happy to share. My dad said, “You can’t want a better neighbor than that. He does it the right way.”
And that’s why Dad could never understand why he ended up turning over his farm to Alexander Tillary, who married his second daughter. Why he didn’t pass it on to his sons. Yes, Tillary had come through and ended up staying with him. Stayed and married his daughter. Worked hard. He was a good farmer, good instincts. Like last year, when the rains went on too late in the Spring to plant. The ground was too wet and too cold. He would have sat that one out, and like some of the guys around here who did, he would have been better off. He always had a knack for that. I think that’s why old man Amundson turned the farm over to him, even though he wasn’t one of his sons. Probably worked harder than his brothers-in-law. But he always seemed to be doing it just for himself, to get ahead of everyone else. Didn’t share so much. My dad said, “That man doesn’t quite know a neighbor from someone come to raid his cellar.”
And he passed that on in the next generation. Of all of his children, if you were going to guess which would one end up farming on the farm, Tom Tillary would not be the one. I went to school with his older brothers. They were the ones who talked about farming, but they ended up drifting off. They went off to Fargo and the Twin Cities. Tom left, too, and then came back. He was the one you’d never expect to see come back. I remember watching him in some football games. He was a tight end. And a safety. Thought he was pretty great stuff. When he graduated he was going to conquer the world somewhere.
But I don’t know why he ended up with the farm of all people. He did well, getting the job to run the tractor plant, but he never farmed his land much. I think Dick Morstad’s been leasing it for ten years. I don’t know what happened in that family. Daughter’s gone. Ben died in that terrible accident the year before last. Finn, the middle one, he’s back. Says he’d like to farm, they still have a lot of the old equipment in their barn. And he worked at Vanek’s shop for years, he probably knows how to fix it. But he says his father says it’s too much trouble. Just wants to lease it out. Doesn’t want to take the risk. Like I said, ever since Amundson passed the farm over to Alexander Tillary, that family just hasn’t seemed right. It’s like they’ve lost their way. I know my dad would have said, “It’s because they don’t do things the right way.” And maybe that’s it. Maybe they’re just unlucky. It’s hard to make it work out here, and to make it keep working.