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  • My grandparents were dairy farmers. My parents are Angus beef farmers, after work at the insurance agency. They spend their evenings, weekends mowing lawns, replacing windows, scrubbing tile. Many a winter evening they have been called out after the sun has gone down to aid a calving heifer, mend a fence the back-scratching bull rode down. Dad turns the headlights of the truck toward it, pulls wire and pliers from the toolbox. Mom waits in the cab with the heat blasting, the radio turned off. The first thing Mom does when she gets into a vehicle is silence it.

    Their second job waits on them until it won't. A calf can't nurse, or lightning brings a tree across the fence and they're up and out. Something is always happening to the fence--a carload of drunk teenagers, or the veterinarian and an ice patch. Whatever else they are doing has to stop while they tend it, make reparations, thank the neighbors for their help. "Nobody just drives home on Mudlick," my Mom says, "without risking a late dinner or dirt on their jeans' hem."

    Memory too is patient until a waft of honeysuckle yanks the body back. A barn full of stuff looms in the dark. It's not yours but you wish it were organized. The dark is so deep you can see the stars behind the stars. Inside the barn, you make your way to the Jimmy, past Brownie, which you won't drive because the brakes are soft. You forget why you've come for a moment, take a breath, smell hay and not death, sneeze and don't collapse. You aim the headlamps on the wall of tools where your mother stacks the cattle prods, sight the work bench where your father taught you how to add another notch to your belt. It has a life of its own, this vast conglomeration of parts it's not up to you to use or throw out.
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