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Farm Bleat: Just tell him you love him

It started with dusty paw prints on the seat of the four-wheeler and a splattering of bird poop on the front fender.

“Well, Dad would not be happy about this!” I muttered as I searched for a shop rag to wipe it off. Dad would have had a sheet covering his prized possession — his last major purchase in this life — but over time a family member grew lax. Now we can’t find the white sheet to cover the ATV when not in use, and the cats have taken full advantage of nap time on a soft cushion.

The four-wheeler will need to be washed, but no time for that this Sunday evening. I climbed aboard and drove it across the yard on my way out to the back pasture.

“Dad would have been out here to drain the ponded water,” I thought to myself as I skirted the pair of wet spots finally drying out on the farm yard. He’d have mowed the grass by now, and he would have disked and dragged the low areas to get rid of the ruts created earlier this spring when implements had to be moved over too-soft soil and Mother Nature just wouldn’t stop with the rain.

But Dad wasn’t here to make things better.

Dad wasn’t here to plant sweet corn this spring. It was Kevin, the oldest of us kids, who fired up the Farmall and the 4-row International planter. He asked me to help, but not quite understanding what it was I was supposed to do, I just took pictures. The sweet corn was planted May 26, when the west end of the garden was still a muddy mess. It was farmed around.

We couldn’t find any written directions from Dad on herbicide application. As a lifelong farmer, I suspect that knowledge was just in his head. He should have shared the details with others — it would have been helpful.

So many things we would have asked him — should have asked him. But there was no time for that — no time to say good-bye; no time to say, “I love you.” That evening he just collapsed. That was it. He was gone.

My dad died nearly seven months ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Three days after his death we marked our first Thanksgiving without him seated at the head of the table. He loved Thanksgiving. Actually, he loved it every time the family was together.

We missed him at Christmas, when his candle flickered an orange glow on the dining room table. Two weeks after Christmas, I marked my first birthday without my dad, and three days later we remembered Dad on his first birthday in Heaven.

In recent years, Dad had pestered me to find a better place to live. I found one on Feb. 28, and in mid-April I moved from my little house on Rose Avenue to my new home. I think Dad would be really happy about the space. I would have loved to give him the grand tour.

So much has happened in less than seven months — a new home for me; a major home remodel for an older brother; a family trip to DisneyWorld for another older brother; volleyball, basketball and baseball games involving the grandkids; and, oh yes, Dad, you’re going to be a great-grandpa again in August. There will be another Buntjer bundle of joy to dote on.

The circle of life continues, and the world doesn’t stop for anyone’s grief.

On Memorial Day, we raised my Dad’s flag at the cemetery where he’s buried. The family gathered once again to remember our U.S. Army veteran. Some of us couldn’t get through Taps without tears. It was too reminiscent of the day he was buried.

Not long after my dad’s death, someone recalled for me a conversation in which my dad lamented his ailments — the neuropathy that greatly affected his balance, the bladder cancer that ruled his lifestyle his last year and the heart disease he’d battled for more than 40 years — and how he wished he could do everything he wanted to do.

I drove away in tears, thinking about the times I was impatient with him — about how I should have done more to help him.

Then there are the days when my Facebook Memories reveal a picture of Dad with grandson Zach fishing on Lake Okabena with a double rainbow over Worthington, or I see the image of my grinning dad holding the first walleye he ever caught. Several weeks ago, a photographic series appeared showing Dad planting his sweet corn the year before last with that four-row International planter.

For those of us who are missing our dads this Father’s Day, well, I’m not sure how we will deal with it. I can tell you I don’t want to see another emailed advertisement in my inbox proclaiming great Father’s Day deals. I won’t be on social media to see post after post of Happy Father’s Day wishes. Perhaps, in memory of Dad, I will go fishing. I haven’t baited a hook since our last walleye quest eight months ago. I guess it’s time I go to the lake, but Dad, I’m still going to toss those bullheads back in the water.

If you have a dad who is still living, please give him a call on Sunday. Better yet, go and visit him — you never know how many more times you’re going to have that opportunity. Give him a hug. Thank him for the role he played in your life, and if you can’t express it in words, find a nice Hallmark card to speak for you. Spend time with him. If he’s anything like my dad, that’s all he really wants.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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