for my father

by Marvin Hiemstra


“The love of living creatures is for me the finest and best trait of mankind.” Albert Einstein

Loud mouth tiny tree frog strongly objects to sundown. I am youngest in a family of four: I am desperate to understand. Our half section Iowa farm fondly remembers ten foot tall prairie grass Universe that sheltered a goldfinch’s first nest and helped a wild rose learn to bloom.

With Bon and Belle, a huge polished chestnut team, my father takes on farming in the impossible 1929. Soon a heavy metal Oliver tractor, same size as a work horse, stands panting in front of the barn. In a world stamped by machines Bon and Belle seem of little value, but my dad adores that team, talks to them every day. They are not trotted to the Slaughter House as most farmers do.

In 1939 I first see the light. Team stands by the barn lot fence. When I toddle near, Bon and Belle welcome me with soft curious nostrils. At three I learn to climb by crawling up that fence. In the warm sun I sit on Belle’s broad back grinning and content.

Neighbors turn hopping hungry grasshopper jealous because my Dad’s crops always do much better. Why? No chemicals sprayed from a ruthless giant Neo-Gothic dragonfly biplane! All birds in the county understand: flock to our sanctuary farm and feast on the insects. Birds remember a world without poison where beloved eggs hatch.

Dad puts me, age five, alone in the driver’s seat as Bon and Belle pull a wagon of fragrant alfalfa from the field. I stop team at the barn. Later I learn that team always stops in front of the barn: with or without a driver.

Before my ninth birthday we move to a spiffy spread on the edge of town. Farm seems out of time, but shines on the two lane no speed limit main drag. Bon and Belle thrive in the front pasture standing head to tail: close enough to whisk the flies from each other’s head.

With a polished chrome gap tooth grin, a Malibu blue four wheeled bomb squeals the brakes, snaps a nostalgia glossy, and roars off.

One night, pockets full of thunderbolts, an out of control manic sky spits out a lightning storm to remember. Frightened team smash the gate: bolt onto the headlight and horn berserk highway. I, home alone, run out into the jam: swinging with my arms around Bon’s neck I talk her back into the pasture. Belle follows.

While I am gone clearing my path through the Universe at University, a very old Belle crumbles slowly to the Earth on an early frost night. Next morning Bon, understanding, dies quietly. Tractor scoops a neat square room below the sod. Dad buries the team deep in the bluegrass/clover pasture they loved so much.

Each morning first and most important when I awake, I give a heartfelt thanks to Bon and Belle and all the cherished animals of my life. They make me human.