Out of habit I often reread an Irish blessing that is on my desk.
“May your neighbors respect you and troubles neglect you, the angels protect you, and heaven accept you.’’
With harvest underway, it is appropriate to wish blessings on farmers and their helpers. Farming is a dangerous profession made more so by long hours and stress. Take breaks when it is time and avoid safety shortcuts in the field, on the road, and at the grain bin.
There are times when respect comes up a little short. In the neighborhood where I grew up squabbles — some petty and others large — occurred. A neighbor who borrowed our equipment sometimes returned it broken or with the fuel tank empty with nary a word. The practice angered my father, who invariably said “yes” when the neighbor asked to borrow something again.
An obvious point his children raised was to tell the neighbor no and explain the reason behind it. Dad found it nearly impossible to say no to the equipment borrower, a feed salesman or insurance seller. He may have been influenced by my mother, who could say no when the situation warranted but was determined to keep drama to a minimum.
She believed that kindness and generosity could reform people. Her philosophy could be best summed up by a saying she often used: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.’’ (The phrase seems to have originated in Italy century ago.)
Vinegar is common when competition over land purchases and rental deals caused wagging tongues and anger.
A farmer who I have gotten to know has shared a story about a feud that his parents had with a neighbor. They shared equipment with each other, worked together to bale hay and fill silo. While the husband was meek, the neighbor’s wife was demanding and foul-mouthed to boot.
She demanded their hay be baled and their silo filled first. The simmering issue came to a head when both families had hay that was ready to bale. She thought theirs should be harvested first and when the opposite happened drove to the neighbor’s field, grabbed a tool, and hit a hired worker over the head. The attack shocked everyone and left the worker bloodied but not seriously hurt.
The dispute did not end there; at silo filling time the neighbors demanded that silage harvest start on their farm. However, the blower was stored on the parents' place. In response, the father cut the blower in two and transported half of it to the neighbors, causing the aggressive wife to fume.
The feud worsened when she used the party telephone line to get revenge. Conversations were frequently interrupted with swear words. The venom got so bad that they disconnected the telephone, which ultimately led to near disaster.
Their farmstead was isolated when a broken light bulb ignited a fire in their barn’s hayloft. The volunteer firefighters were out of reach and the barn burned to the ground.
We never had neighbors who behaved that badly.
Our closest neighbor, a nonfarming family with little money and a passel of children, often walked the half-mile to our dairy barn to get milk from the bulk tank. Initially, we did not know they were doing this, and when discovered suggested that they leave money on the windowsill as payment.
The spare change amounted to chicken feed, but over a couple months we counted the stash to see if there was enough to make a run to the Dairy Queen for ice cream treats.
It was — to boys who needed a volunteer to drive us there — a bonanza. We never knew or cared much about how much milk they had taken. A rare ice cream treat was a worthy reward for kindness.
There are indeed times when you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.