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Hot tubs, kids and farmers' bodies

"Is Grandpa going into the hot tub without any clothes on," my four-year-old grandson, Mikey, asked his father with obvious astonishment. I was very gingerly stepping barefoot on a wood-chip path with a towel wrapped around the lower half of my b...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

"Is Grandpa going into the hot tub without any clothes on," my four-year-old grandson, Mikey, asked his father with obvious astonishment. I was very gingerly stepping barefoot on a wood-chip path with a towel wrapped around the lower half of my body toward the hot tub in the backyard of the Santa Fe house his parents, Marilyn, and I, had rented for the Easter weekend.

I was the first person in the family to "hit the spa" that day. The towel covered my swimming trunks underneath, but I can understand Mikey's worry.

Mikey's six-year-old sister, Alex, did little to alleviate her brother's concern when she hopped into the hot tub after me, asking "Why is the water running over the sides of the tub?"

I had already lowered my body into the heated pool. Before I could answer Alex, my namesake grandson interjected, "How come your belly button is so big?"

"I have a hernia," I explained, but my answer only prompted more questions.

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"How did you get that?" both grandchildren asked.

"It's what can happen if you lift something that's too heavy," I answered. "I had surgery to remove a part of my body that had cancer, called the 'prostate.' The surgeon accidentally made his cut into my tummy too long, so it weakened the tissue around my belly button."

"You know what cancer is, don't you?" I added, and they nodded. "Afterwards when I picked up a heavy hay bale my tummy popped out, and I've had the hernia ever since."

"Does it hurt?" Mikey wondered.

"No," I answered. "It's one of the things that can happen when farmers don't pay enough attention when working, like losing my toes."

We had had this conversation about my missing toes before, but both grandkids persisted in querying me further and commenting on my 1990 mishap. Mikey asked me to display my injured foot.

When I raised my right leg, the overflowing water subsided, but not the interrogation.

"You were brave," Mikey observed, albeit incorrectly.

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"No, I made a mistake," I responded. "Your mother and Uncle Jon got into the combine our farmhand and I were operating and found my missing toes. They, and our farmhand, were very brave."

"Wow," Mikey said.

His sister spoke up, "I know what a combine is and how you lost your toes. I'm going to be a doctor like Mommy. She said finding your toes made her decide to become a doctor."

The in-pool conversation wasn't finished. Pointing to my chest, Mikey said, "You look like Grandma."

Oh boy, how could I explain this without compromising Marilyn's or my dignity? Let me just say that I postponed answering Mikey immediately and brought up the subject at the supper table.

Big mistake! After everyone stopped laughing hilariously and had wiped away their uncontrollable tears, including me, someone said, "That's what happens when you get fat."

That explanation didn't help a bit, as laughter surged again. Just so you know, I'm a bit overweight.

In retrospect, I have to commend Alex and Mikey for their innocent and complete honesty. They also looked out for me during the entire trip, particularly Alex.

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I could barely walk, due to a pinched nerve or something else. Alex took my hand wherever we ventured to museums and such inspiring sights as the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe and its multi-story spiral staircase that was said to be constructed miraculously by a rancher/carpenter over a century ago, using only glue and wooden pegs.

"I need a miracle," I thought.

Alex made sure I had my walking cane and waited with me on sidewalks and trails until my pain subsided enough to resume walking. Alex also spoke up loudly when I could hear only half of what people said, due to otitis media that ruptured my ear drums a month earlier.

Yup, my body isn't working properly, like many older - and some younger - farmers' bodies. My mind is okay, I think. I might need tubes in my ears and hearing aids (I'll find out next week) and possibly surgery to deal with spinal stenosis or whatever is causing me to walk painfully and with limited balance.

I will continue what I'm doing until nothing functions on me anymore. This is what many farmers decide as they age and answer their own, and their family's questions, about why they continue to farm.

Farmers don't readily quit what they feel they are called to undertake. When their physical capacities deteriorate, they still want to be useful.

Sometimes this means farmers who are declining physically take on only advisory roles to those who follow in their footsteps. In other instances they continue to work until their abilities to function decline to the point that they can't make meaningful contributions to the farming operation.

Reaffirming to me, more people currently request my assistance than ever before. Mikey and Alex also validated me when each said, "I love you, Grandpa."

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