I wrote this a couple of years ago. On this Father’s Day, I am thinking of Dad more particularly, and as I always do, I remember his voice, his grin, his wonderful farmer’s hands. I hope this one touches your heart, as it still touches mine…
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” A simple prayer that graced the beginning of each meal around the family table. The memories stirred up from childhood – the memories most cherished and often most vivid – are the memories of fellowship, of food, of laughter, of family. Around the table the folded hands of brothers, sister, parents, and me – on the table, dinner prepared…
My dad’s hands were working hands – strong, confident, able hands that were always, in my memory, tender and gentle, though equally, bruised and often battered. A farmer’s hands get dirty, nicked, scraped of course; sometimes, the injury suffered was more than superficial. I remember a family friend who lost part of his ring finger when a grain auger caught on his wedding ring. Farmers’ hands at work often translated to farmers’ hands at risk. Dad’s hands worked the soil, sifted through grain, reigned in horses, and disciplined his children. He played with those hands too – the quiet tune from his guitar, the gentle tweak of my mother’s cheek, the embrace of his “little one” before she went off to bed. With those hands he helped bring calves into the world, mended fences and tore some down, and picked endless rocks from the high plains soil of his North Dakota farmland.
The work of his hands brought a fair share of scars. If so inclined, Dad could recount the circumstance of this or that particular mark. One of his favorite battle scars was the result of a war of wills between Dad and a stubborn workhorse with whom he was plowing during the years of the Great Depression. When the horse balked and refused to move, he received a well-placed punch to his velvety nose. The horse went back to work. Dad went through the rest of his days with a slightly bent and misshapen pinky. Over the years, that finger, broken to prove a point (in an argument with a horse, mind you), served as a reminder of Dad’s stubborn and implacable will, and the story itself, as an anecdotal reminiscence to share around the table along with the mashed potatoes and gravy. Appropriately, Dad’s hands, largely responsible for planting and picking those potatoes, were also the ones to mash them. Mom was unquestionably the superior cook, but she always maintained that Dad made the potatoes taste the way they should. His hands were skilled for many kinds of labor – but it was farming that his hands were made for.
Summer times brought the lion’s share of the farmer’s work. Attending to the myriad details of farm implements and machinery to be maintained and often repaired, Dad’s battle scars grew more prominent during those months of planting and harvest. From tractor and plow to combine and grain truck, Dad’s hands guided the wheels, fixed the broken parts when he was able, and then folded quietly at the end of the day, trusting the Lord to bless his labors and oversee the elements beyond his control. With each season’s change, Dad used his wit, his strength and his hands to do that which he could do. He planted in season, but waited on the rain and sun and the ways of growing things. He tended and minded, but knew that the force of his will could not make the wheat plentiful. He used his hands, yes. But he was also keenly aware of the things that were ‘out of his hands,’ and he wisely trusted them to the only One who could bring to fruition a bountiful harvest.
The signs of work and wear grew more pronounced with each passing year. The crooked pinky kept fine company with a scar left behind after an unfortunate encounter with a sharpened mower blade. As the years advanced, age spots and eventually the aching misery of arthritis marred and twisted those hands. Still folded at the end of each day, still tender and gentle, and still reminding us that he could bust a horse’s face if he desired, just to keep the upper hand. The farming life is a good life for those who are willing to learn from it. Farming teaches self-reliance and the value and pleasure found in hard work. It teaches an abundant appreciation for the seasons – for springtime planting and its promise of hope, for summer warmth and its luxuriant growth, for autumn harvest and its satisfaction, and even for winter, and its quiet slumber – a time for hands to rest.
In the stunning cold of a North Dakota winter, Dad’s hands were stilled forever on January 29, 2001. A man known for his stubborn will, his delight in a good joke, and for his love for the land he worked so faithfully, Peter Jung lived a quiet life, unknown by most of the world, but in his little corner of it, remembered as much for his work and family as for his way with his fists. Battered and scarred, warm and strong, determined and able – the way we knew his hands became the way we knew his very life. A man of his word. A man whose handshake sealed the deal. A man whose hands shaped the land, held in true partnership the hand of his adoring wife, and sent his children into the world to discover their own place in it.
Another remembered supper-time. The food served, the family gathered, the blessing offered – this time, by Dad’s youngest. And in the stillness following the ‘amen,’ Dad’s deep and rumbling voice adding, “and God bless my wounds.”
That quiet addition to our request for the Lord’s blessing has made its way into our family’s storybook. Another one of Dad’s moments – tender, funny, and marked by the work of his hands, this time, in need of a bit of healing.
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” And Lord? Bless Dad’s wounds…
The always familiar prayer echoed by a gathered family, fewer in number but still rich in love, a shared meal, abundant in flavor and cherished memories, and hands, folded in a prayer of deep and abiding thankfulness for a father who loved his family and loved the work which the Lord had given him to do. May the work of his hands be forever blessed, as his hands have been gloriously, and eternally healed.