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The Village Idiot


Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(10/2015) For eighteen years, DW and I trekked out to the "main farm", as we called it, to visit Marty. While Marty and I had shared occasional drinking companions in our younger days and were able to get along with each other during gatherings of drunks, we didn’t become close friends until after Jack, 3 asked to be taught the ways of firearms. During the time we spent visiting Marty and his family’s farm; we gardened, raised chickens, told stories of our childhoods and argued everything under the sun. Marty gave us tours of the nearly 500 acres his family was farming then. He’d call us from town to help gut and skin out deer he’d killed. We watched as Jack, 3 learned to milk cows, handle firearms (.22-caliber rifle to a .357-magnum revolver) and eat the farm’s "silo pigeons" he killed with a 20-gauge shotgun. We helped vaccinate puppies, tend to sick cows, attempted to herd escaped pigs and dodged towering farm tractors and the huge implements they pulled around the farmyard. We learned of Marty’s hopes for his future and he learned of ours.

When Marty started talking about his little bit of land and the house he’d bought (but never lived in) he wondered if DW and I might be interested in moving out of town and helping him set up a homestead when such a time came as he could afford to finally sleep in the house he’d owned for two decades. When DW didn’t oppose the idea, I got fired up about it. My enthusiasm then fired Marty’s and we discussed, debated and heatedly argued about everything.

Marty’s baseline of knowledge was firsthand while mine was mostly gleaned from books. I argued from a homesteader’s "small" subsistence mindset while he promoted a 500-acre "commercial" mentality. (He’d eventually have 15 acres to work with. Too small for his plans, bigger than I knew what to do with.) Marty would talk to his lifelong farming friends about my crazy ideas and I’d gripe to my network of internet homesteading friends about his being unable to grasp the concepts I was learning through them, acquired books and years of "playing" at gardening. We were both wondering if we’d be able to tolerate each other for a day (once we shared the house and land) let alone the 10 or 20 years we were planning to spend together! Through endless discussions and arguments DW dozed, (she had a factory to worry with) and let us bullheaded males work it out.

Marty and I came to an agreement about the farm/homestead by way of outsiders’ advice. Diane, the former Texas Homesteader, sent me an email pretty much telling me to shut the hell up when Marty was teaching me what he knew about farming. "Listen to the man! His family has only been at it for what, a couple of hundred years? When was your family last living at farming?"

Marty’s "family" of farmers tempered his disgust with my new fangled ideas by pointing to articles in the farm newspapers and magazines about many of the ideas I spoke of being successfully worked on nearby PA farms. Once he understood "real farmers" were writing the books I was getting my ideas from he started considering them. Tensions between us eased considerably when I told him Diane had told me to shut the hell up when he spoke of farming. He thought Diane was brilliant. Which made it easier for me to tell him her advice about my homesteading ideas.

"Marty doesn’t understand the small scale/subsistence homestead. You don’t either, though you’ve been working toward it for a decade. Don’t argue with him. Just do what you know how to do and show him. Oh, and stop overwhelming him with all the things you think you can do when you move out there! I know for a fact you and DW cannot garden an acre of ground without Marty’s help. I know you can’t raise 200 egg and meat chickens while tending the garden. I know you can’t raise ducks, turkeys, sheep, goats, pigs and cows while running a factory and a farm. I know, because I tried it, and I grew up on a farm and should have known better! Get your head out of the clouds and your hands into the soil." (None of quotes are verbatim.)

Having reached a shaky truce, (Marty unsure I could keep my mouth shut and do the things I planned, and me suddenly aware I couldn’t do anything without Marty’s permission and help) we began the 2015 garden.

I’d introduced Marty to the farm scale rotary tiller. He wanted a 10 footer to churn the acre into an instant garden. I advocated for a 3 footer DW and I could follow behind and work with hand tools. We explained our wants and he ended up buying a 4.5 footer that wasn’t what either of us wanted, but each could live with. (I have pictures and videos of Marty commanding an International "utility" tractor pulling the tiller behind. He was so excited to be on a tractor again, doing the fieldwork he obviously loved. At one point, he yells at me over the engine roar and the whirring blades, "I like this tiller! I wish Dad had bought one back when we were farming 700 acres! What else do you want me to do?")

The tilling Marty did was rough. The tractor was the wrong type for the tiller and Marty’s brother in-law, Wayne, brought his tractor-tiller rig to fine till the garden rows for us. I got busy raking rows together and quickly learned Diane wasn’t kidding about my trying to do too much all at once. One hundred feet of pulling soil to the middle of a raised row with a garden rake about did me in. DW and I drove T-posts and hung a plastic fence as a trellis for tomatoes. We planted cabbages, taters, peppers, flowers and beans. I mowed the grass walkways between the rows while DW weeded between the plantings. Marty watched and questioned everything we did. Nothing looked familiar to him, but he didn’t object to any of it.

Then we moved in with Marty.

We knew about his clinical depression. We knew about his physical pain and his withdrawal from 18 years of prescribed morphine use. It took us two days of living with Marty to realize little of what we had planned for 3 years was ever going to happen. I remarked to DW one morning as we traveled from the farm to the factory, "You know we are going to be his caretakers?"

"I know." She said, with more calm than I expected.

"Are you okay with that? It’s not like anything we talked about is going to happen now."

"I know. But we promised we’d stick by him."

Twelve days later, I found Marty dead in his bed.

The 2015 harvest has been bitter.

Rest in peace Marty. And if you get the chance, kick the gods for me. I don’t much appreciate their sense of humor.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.