Memorial Day. A special day set aside in our great country to remember those who served the cause of freedom. A time to pause. A time to reflect. A time to honor.
While today is, rightfully, first and foremost a military and patriotic holiday, our #familyfarm has always added to those themes. Specifically, our tradition is to reflect on not just this country’s veterans, but also our past family members. It’s something that ties the current and succeeding generations to the roots of our past—and highlights how fortunate we are BECAUSE of the sacrifices made by our soldiers.
Our rural community has a few small cemeteries located around the main towns. The local Legions, holding fewer and fewer veterans, visit each of these quiet plots and perform a remembrance accompanied by a 21 gun salute and prayer. My late grandfather—Grandpa Bowman or “Ed” to the community—was a great public speaker. He took his charge in the Legion and his knack for words very solemnly. He was proud of his service in Patton’s Army in World War II, but he was well aware of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many more. As children, my sister and I would attend the Memorial Day Ceremony, cheer for Grandpa and collect the spent rifle cartridges from the firing squad’s blanks after it was over. From there, we would converse with other community members and neighbors. Often, we would visit the graves of our ancestors.
Today, the tradition continues though with my own family. We went to the cemetery at 11:00 am after (yet another) rain shower. As typical, I was wearing my work clothes: a dirt covered Carhartt t-shirt with Duluth Firehose work pants and rust covered hands. Many farmers and small business owners don’t take the day off and I worked all morning in our shop. My wife and boys picked me up at the farm and we were off to our annual tradition.
We parked our car and began walking, umbrellas in tow, towards the group of neighbors huddled around the flag in the southeast corner of the Oneida Cemetery. The Legion was starting to assemble ahead of the ceremony and, as always, one of our group began singing a few verses to some patriotic hymns. We sang God Bless America, My Country Tis’ of Thee, and my favorite The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I tried to whisper in my sons’ ears about what they were seeing and why this was important. I had our Little Man remove his John Deere hat for the playing of Taps and a quiet moment.
The last ten days have been especially frustrating this spring—not able to plant or do much else outside. But Memorial Day, this tradition, brings me back to the proper focus on what matters. There is greatness in this country indeed. And our #familyfarm is blessed to be a part of it.
The ceremony concluded, we began our walk to the first gravemarker. John Wesley Bowman, a Civil War Veteran of the 20th PA Calvary. He is also my Great, Great Grandfather. As we stared at the little flag in front of this grave, I told both my sons that this man is who walked from Pennsylvania to our farm. He is the start of our #familyfarm. We continued our walk to the south central lot. I carried our littlest on my shoulders, his green and yellow boots squeaking against my shoulders. We arrived at Edward Ralph Bowman’s stone. Here, I told them, is where their Great, Great Grandpa Ed R. Bowman was laid to rest. He is the reason our farm survived the Great Depression. He kept the farm together and made room for my Grandpa Ed A. Bowman to come back after World War II. We moved further west, to the newer lots of the cemetery. Here is where my Grandpa Ed was buried. He died in 2003, my Junior year of high school. I told them the last words he said to me were “I’m proud of you.” I was planting corn that afternoon, after having taken the ACT exam. Grandpa Ed, having lost some of his mental faculties to dementia, never lost his faith in God nor his sincerity. His story for our family farm was one of great risk and vision. Our farm grew and diversified with his leadership. He would have been proud to see his Grandson and two great-grandsons admiring the waving flag in front of his name. The plot next to his was filled only in 2016. Dad, Lynn Bowman, was buried there after a sixteen year battle with renal failure and cancer. I reminded the boys of his contributions—a conservative, disciplined fiscal philosophy combined with off-farm income that protected the farm thru the 1980s farm crisis. Dad continued making land purchases to the very end, preserving a future for the fifth generation—for me and my sister.
Aside from faith in God above, one of the greatest lessons I can teach my children is being part of something greater than self. A #familyfarm is perhaps one of the greatest examples of such—it’s something you live. Each generation wrote a chapter in this family’s history. Each made sacrifices for the succeeding descendant to have the opportunity—the blessing—of a farm life. Each is a story in and of itself worth telling and remembering.
It is humbling to consider that you are a steward, NOT an owner. I try to remind myself when I open the plat book and see my name listed as a property owner for the tracts I’ve purchased thus far.
It is important to remember the things that matter most. Yes, the business success is memorable. But that overlooks so much of the story that includes luck, God’s providence and provision, risk management and, of course, an incredible work ethic. None of which would matter in most other countries where freedom to succeed hadn’t been purchased by our forefathers and soldiers.
Happy Memorial Day –
Andrew, Karlie, Ryker & Bauer