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Farm Bleat: Remembering a farmer’s torn and tattered coveralls

Dear readers,

My three brothers and I lost our dad last week. My mom lost her husband of 58 years. He was the patriarch of the Buntjer family; the farmer who refused to leave the farm.

He loved us, this we know. He’s in a better place, this we know. He celebrated the greatest Thanksgiving of all on Thursday — far better than we can ever imagine — this, as Christians, we know.

Rather than write about my dad through tears today, I’ve decided to share with you a story I wrote about 20 years ago while working for the Redwood Gazette in Redwood Falls. It was displayed during my dad’s visitation and funeral.

It sure has seen its better days — that torn and tattered pair of coveralls belonging to my dad.

When the colors fade from the greens of summer to the browns and golds of autumn, the thermometer dips toward freezing and the winds howl in anticipation of yet another winter on our Minnesota prairie, Dad digs behind all of the other coats and snowsuits in the closet to find that faded blue, denim-patched pair of coveralls with the little GTA Feeds emblem sewn above the left chest.

They were a gift to him by his brother-in-law more than 20 years ago, and on at least one occasion were hidden in the trash can — undoubtedly by a farmer’s wife who was tired of patching it and replacing broken zippers.

The farmer — whose job it is to burn the garbage — retrieved them just before they reached the flame, and put them back in the closet where they belonged.

One year, my brothers and I went to town and bought him a pair of those Wall coveralls — you know, the ones that are brown and made to fit all sizes, even big and tall.

After pulling off the wrapping paper and looking at his gift, Dad said to us, “What do I need a new pair of coveralls for — the pair I have fits me just fine.”

Sounds like a typical farmer, doesn’t it?

Anything can be fixed by the farmer’s wife with needle and thread — and when she refuses, duct tape works just as good.

There’s that rip on the back shoulder, where Dad crawled underneath the barbed wire fence, only to realize he hadn’t quite crouched down low enough.

More rips along the sleeves are reminders of other mishaps with the barbed wire — likely from the times he had to mend fences in the cattle pasture.

Patches on both legs stretch from just below the hips to just below the knees.

Over the years, Mom has patched them with faded blue jeans or whatever heavy duty material she could find.

There’s oil and grease stains that didn’t completely come clean in the wash after Dad tinkered around on his old M Farmall or 450 International, and you’ll find spots of ground-in dirt from those hours working underneath a piece of broken-down machinery sitting in the middle of the field.

Those old coveralls may be ripped and stained, patched and lumpy, but they still keep Dad warm. Like a toddler’s favorite blankie, Dad’s coveralls surround him in comfort.

And on the coldest of the cold days — the ones when undoubtedly a cow has to freshen, a sheep has to lamb or a goat has to kid, Dad’s coveralls came in handy.

Many a time when one of our goats had problem deliveries, a newborn kid was tucked in that old pair of coveralls. Shivering from the cold, scared from an unloving mother and thrust into a world of uncertainty, that new little baby was walked through the blustery cold to the farmer’s house.

A few days later and ready for the freedom of the barn, the kid was once again tucked inside those coveralls, carried to the barn and returned to a pen of straw.

Yeah, I guess those old coveralls sure have seen their better days. But they’re Dad’s coveralls. They’re comfortable, they’re warm, they’re tattered and torn … and they look just fine with one of his dusty and dirty old seed caps.