I had written several hundred dollars-worth of checks by the time I was 12 years old and probably a few thousand dollars more before I could legally drive. But, before you start thinking that I was some rich kid with his private stash of cash, let me explain.
My father never learned to read or write any more than being able to crudely sign his name. So, with me by his side to go to feed stores and sale barns, I would write the checks out to the business or individual and subtly hand it to my father for him to affix his signature.
“Just teaching the boy how to handle money,” he would often comment to the people I was paying. Now, I can understand why he made those comments.
Dad had grown up in a time where hard work was more important to survival than going to school. He certainly wasn’t unintelligent, because I still consider him to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever known – just not educated. Because of his intelligence, he was able to become quite successful as a farmer, all the while keeping his secret hidden from most all the people with which he had contact throughout his lifetime.
My father kept current on agricultural sciences, too, because my mother would read aloud, almost nightly, from the latest issues of the Farm Journal, Missouri Ruralist, or several other magazines to which we subscribed. He was also a keen listener to the radio as he kept abreast of commodity markets and world news. Of course, he had his own interpretations of what they meant – but he was right more often than not.
Dad has been gone for more than 20 years, and I had repressed a lot of those old memories until a few weeks ago while I was standing in line at the livestock auction to pay for a group of cows I had purchased that night.
In front of me was an older gentleman, dressed in faded overalls, who had also purchased several head that night and, when it came his turn to pay, he handed his checkbook to the cashier and said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and fill out the check and I’ll sign it.”
I had seen my dad do that a thousand times in my life, and I admit that I got more than just a little choked up.
The friendly lady smiled and said, “Sure, Sir. No problem.”
I was next up, and the lump in my throat had cleared enough for me to comment to the lady, “That was awfully nice of you to fill out that man’s check for him.”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” she replied. “It might surprise you to know that he could probably have bought and paid for every cow that went through that ring, tonight.”
“No, Ma’am,” I answered, “That wouldn’t surprise me one bit.”
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’