Whether a writer has written for 40 months or 40 years, most of us have collected, filed or shelved evidence of our work. The amount varies from a few stories, to several boxes and to possibly hundreds of gigabytes.
Most of these collections include every magazine issue that has showcased our work. Every column we have penned. And don’t forget every photo that’s graced a magazine cover and the stories inside.
Radio shows, printed components of a promotional campaign — you name it, it’s probably collecting dust somewhere.
Why do we keep these stories?
For one thing, it authenticates our careers. The people we’ve interviewed. What we’ve written, and sometimes, we return to such works.
We may even read them ourselves or show them to others who may choose to catch a glimpse of the stories we’ve written. Anything that reminds us of what we’ve done, seems to satisfy.
While reading through such archives, it’s not always about the words we’ve written or the photographs of the people we’ve visited that rekindle our emotions and memories. Sometimes it’s a segment of the story we didn’t write or couldn’t.
It might have been about the dairy farmer in south-central Kansas who finally took his wife on a vacation after 30 years. It included a trip to Wisconsin to visit his wife’s mother.
Another untold story might have included the broken-hearted cattleman in southwestern Kansas who lost half of his momma cows in last spring’s wildfire. Would he ever be able to stand the pain of losing another precious animal he took responsibility for?
Or the story in the eyes of a farm couple who toured the first wind energy farm in southwest Kansas. Their sorrowful lament at seeing the turbines spinning slowly in the Kansas wind, “Why couldn’t they have been on our land?”
How about the nine-foot tall, red granite monolith firmly planted on the farm of another western Kansan. What was the rest of this story?
Could this have signaled his displeasure about the dairy policy of a previous U.S. president?
These tales are many and as varied as the people who tell them. They’re real and impact the livelihoods of families throughout our state — some for generations.
Some surely would provide insight into the lives of those (farm/ranch journalists) who wrote them. The logistics involved in setting up and conducting interviews. Working around the harried schedules of farmers and ranchers during calving season, fall harvest or planting a winter wheat crop during an unusually wet autumn.
And the weather — now there’s a constant fly in the proverbial ointment. How many times has weather changed or altered plans of both the farmer/rancher, writer or both?
How about when farmers or ranchers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, reveal what we knew they understood so we could share this story with others?
Through it all, we choose to remember the good ones. Those experiences, people and stories we’ll never forget. We cling to such memories.
That sage old farmer from Furley who spoke with a voice of reason, wisdom and common sense. When he rose to his feet to talk, everyone listened. He’s no longer with us.
Or the articulate farm lady, with hair the color of snow, who impressed us with her knowledge and innovative spirit?
She was a force to be reckoned with and revered within the farm community. Today, she lives in her twilight years.
People change. The years fly by. No one out there is exactly the way they were when we met them, or remember them.
Neither is the landscape and we aren’t either.
Technology and time wait for no one. Both leave us bobbing in their wake. We either climb aboard or fade away.
We’re all shoe-box museums of different sizes filled with artifacts we rarely discuss but rely on to prove who and what we were then, and are now. Still, they’re important for a far more important reason.
They kindle in us what we must still become as we carry on work in this vital industry of which we are a part — agriculture.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.