• Tom’s a Good Farmer

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 6 comments

    TL;DR version: I’m in a bit of a weird place, geographically and psychologically. So I wrote a letter telling you about it. The point? I dunno. You never know where you’ll find inspiration? Even if you’re not writing, you can still be engendering future writing?


    For the past three days I’ve been in a county whose population barely cracks 18,000. Back home, I can see 18,000 people in a day without really trying. The town I’m staying in houses 5,000 of those 18,000, and is the only incorporated community in this county of 600 square miles. I’m staying at the nicest hotel in town. It’s a run-down Ramada, base rate $65/night, and is worth nearly every penny.

    There’s a bookstore in town. It doubles as a liquor store; you can come in and browse books while sipping a local beer. Weekdays it closes at 5:30 p.m.; weekends 6:00.

    The town’s restaurant guide offers a dozen options, including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC/Taco Bell, the Kwik Trip filling station, and Subway.

    The 2010 census shows a population of about 5,200 people, 96.1% of whom are white. Agriculture makes up 49% of its economy. I was talking to a guy yesterday and he mentioned a successful area farmer. “Yeah, Tom’s a good farmer,” he said. I’d never before considered farming and talent level; that there are farmers good at farming and farmers bad at farming.

    My dad was born on a farm just outside of town. When he was zero years old, his family lost the farm. I guess maybe my grandfather wasn’t a talented farmer.

    So they moved to town, and for a few years my dad lived in a building kitty-corner from a warehouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I wonder if that meant anything to him.

    Guess which building is which:






    Today I visited the cemetery where are interred my grandparents, great-grandparents, and various uncles. My dad had nine brothers. Farmhands. All dead now. One died 84 years ago in a logging accident! I didn’t know him. (Wink.)

    So many children died in infancy back then that it was just easier to collect them all in one place. (The family plot is a short ways away from this spot.) It’s called Baby Heaven. For real. There’s a sign that reads “Baby Heaven, Forever Young.”

    Plenty of Duhrs live in town. It’s not quite like Smith, but close. I don’t know a single one of them. This isn’t a homecoming. Though if one or two things had happened differently in my parents’ lives, I might have grown up here. Or more likely never existed at all.

    I’m doing some research into my dad’s life for the book. I’m interviewing strangers, doing research at the county courthouse, walking into places (bars, schools) where strangers (I) are (am) greeted with unveiled suspicion.

    I am not in my comfort zone. But as we’ve discussed, this can be a good thing.

    This morning I met with a man who used to be the mayor. He ran a barbershop for fifty years.

    I’ve lived in Boston, Denver, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Austin, now NYC. I’m more comfortable in cities. When you run a barbershop for five decades while doubling as mayor, there’s no place to hide. But I also find myself drawn to such stability and community. If I’d been born here, would I have stayed?

    If I did, I wouldn’t have AT&T on my cellphone. Apparently AT&T satellites don’t reach this far. Last night I had to make a phone call on the landline in my motel room. I dialed 9, then waited for the dial tone. The dial tone!

    I haven’t written a word of my book since I got to town. Yet every moment here will contribute to the final product. I’m planting seeds, if you will. I’m just trying to be a good farmer. Like Tom.

    What will you do today to be a good farmer?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    John Liebling

    Big city politics embrace a lot of whoring around. Just in breaking news: Los Angles Unified School District Board President was indicted for miss appropriation of funds used during his 2015 campaign, if found guilty he could serve 52 months in prison. Speaking of whoring around, is it not a fact, on a farm, that is where one would find the most hoes? On a scale of 1-10 my humor usually exceeds the groan meter by a factor so great, it is beyond measurement. For example when my students start roasting each other, I tell them you can’t do that… Read more »

    Glynis Jolly

    I used to be a big city person. I was born and raised in Denver. However, I spent summers on a cousin’s ranch on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. The ranch house was a mile outside of a dinky little town where I could walk through the back door of the grocery store to buy whatever my cousin sent me for. Since I have been in my forties, I have been living in towns instead of cities. It is a lot like living in the neighborhood of a large city but never venturing out of the neighborhood.


    I like this blog post, David. It comes at a time when I am experiencing a very discomfiting reconnection with my past. Now that I have more insight, I realize that I was party to a betrayal. I don’t think I will ever write the details of the situation, but maybe I can use the grief and nausea churning in my gut to write something else. A bad seed might still bear good fruit.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x