I grew up with farmers and always admired their pragmatic approach to life.
One of my first jobs in life, at 13, was working for Pop Frasier, as he was known to us kids. He had just bought what he called a “new used” tractor. But one of the big tires got a flat and he didn’t have a big enough wrench, or the right wrench, to get it off.
We went to the Ag store to buy one. I saw the price for it: $25. I whistled. Pop said, “You think that’s a lot?” I said, “Yes, about 3 days pay for me.” He said, “Try to make one. See how long that takes you.” He followed that with, “Success in life is having the right tools when you need ’em. Otherwise you make do as best you can with duck [sic] tape, baling wire, and WD-40.¨
As tax time passed recently it reminded me of a couple of stories about farmers I heard some time ago.
The first one was about a sugar cane farmer named Underwood, who started out struggling for a good number of years because the price of sugar was so low. He raised some cattle, too, to diversify his income. Suddenly, though, over the course of just a year, the price of sugar skyrocketed and stayed there.
It wasn’t long before Underwood found himself in high cotton, if I can mix a metaphor. As he became increasingly prosperous, he indulged his long-held bucket-list wish to own a Rolls Royce – a used one, but nonetheless a Rolls Royce, by God. This development caught the eye of an IRS agent – not because farmer Underwood had a Rolls, but because he had it listed as a farm vehicle and took a tax deduction for it. The agent went to his house in town to have a surprise chat with Underwood and bust him for this probable fraud.
When the agent arrived at the house and asked for him, Mrs. Underwood told the agent that her husband was not there just then. He had run out to the farm right quick and would be back soon. She invited the agent to have a seat on the porch and wait. She brought him a glass of sweet iced tea with lemon while he waited. Keep in mind that this was before cell phones so she could not alert her husband about the unexpected visitor. It was just a short time later that farmer Underwood pulled into the long driveway in that very Rolls Royce that the IRS was interested in. The Rolls had muddy tires and a lot of mud streaks down the side.
Underwood got out and waved at the stranger. He signaled he’d be with him in a moment. He then opened the back door of the Rolls and pulled out a large, muddy, sick calf and carried him back to the little barn behind the house.
When Underwood returned to the front porch, the IRS agent was gone. He asked his wife about him and she said, “I don’t know. He said he’d seen all he needed to see, thanked me for the tea, and and stormed off looking a bit disappointed.”
The second tax story had to do with a farmer who had a share-cropper agreement with a landowner. For years he ‘d raised peanuts and/or watermelons on thirty acres the suburbanite owned. The farmer gave him 40% of the profits as payment. The farmer always paid him just before tax day so he could add the income to his tax returns as needed.
One year, the landowner noticed that the farmer didn’t plant anything on the acreage. He figured the farmer needed to let the land rest to replenish minerals or something. Yet he was surprised when the farmer showed up near tax time and gave him a check for $500.
The landowner was confused. He said, “But you didn’t have a crop this year.” The farmer said, “Oh, the government paid me to not grow peanuts on at least thirty acres – so this is your part of the money we got for not growing peanuts.” The landowner said, “Well, wait a minute. If you used my land to not grow something, shouldn’t I get all of the money?” No, said the farmer, you’re lucky I’m cuttin’ you in at all, because, you see, “I was the one not doing all the work.”