By Jerry Bowen
Flyover Country, IA, USA
The rain just won’t stop. After six weeks of crops getting baked, Iowa recorded the wettest September ever. Our slice of flyover country is soaked. It continues in October as I write this at the farmhouse dining room table.

Jerry Bowen
The old place is surrounded by acres of brown, wind-broken corn stalks that stretch to the horizon. Visible through oversized windows as frustrating landscapes. And too muddy to get to. One year back, in ’92, they didn’t get the picking done until late October. That was after the ground froze during one of those freak early cold spells.
Nature always bats last. Farming is not for the weak or impatient.
There is other sobering news. An area handyman, known by his nickname, “Woody,” has died. He cut and sold firewood to get along. His chainsaw got away from him and sliced a leg. Woody decided to take care of the cut himself instead of going to the doctor. Don’t know if it was the expense or a bad case of bullheadedness on his part. Gangrene poisoning set in. And it was too late to do anything.
Woody’s demise was the talk at Darrell’s Place over in Hamlin, reputedly home of the best tenderloin sandwich in this part of the State. The tenderloin being the Iowa State Sandwich. Personally, I think Mel’s down the road in Brayton has a far superior offering. The tenderloin is crisp and so big it flops over the edge of the bun on all sides. A gastronomical giant. But I digress.

The chainsaw story is relevant for a couple of reasons. At age 71, I just got my first chainsaw ever. There are many fallen trees around the farm to be cut into firewood for the fire pit. And I enjoy working in the outdoors.

My decision to get this “man toy” was not greeted with enthusiasm by my bride of nearly 50 years. She actually wants to make it to the 50-year celebration next summer, with me in one piece. Not with a man of missing pieces.
My neighbor to the south, Mike, greeted the news with his typical dry wit. Holding up his huge mitts, fingers splayed and smiling. The unstated question being, “lost anything yet?”
Mike is a 4th generation farmer who told me about the biggest move he ever made in his life, when we first met. He said it was from his bedroom in the family home down the hall to his parents’ bedroom. That was after they moved to town and Mike took over the farm. Much has changed since then. The changes got us talking over dinner.

Bowen Family Farm

Mike’s parents are both gone now. His wife Susan’s dad has dementia and her mother is in hospice care with cancer and somehow hanging on. Her parents are in separate towns 60-miles apart. Different needs require drastic solutions. There are few one-size-fits-all long-term care facilities out here.
Mike and Susan are younger, but they ponder the same questions we do about the future. Who will take care of us when we get old? Where will we get the healthcare we will certainly need at some stage? Where will the caregivers come from? It is not easy to find good workers who are willing to take care of old bodies; old demanding bodies, inhabited by scared and angry souls, wrestling with abrupt turns late in life.
“The Philippines,” I suggest. We have so many Filipino nurses back in L.A. They work hard. Are genuinely kind. They care. And they want to come to America for better paying jobs. Money they can send back home to family in Manila.
They could come to Iowa, too. That is if the Trump Jihad against immigration doesn’t cut off that work force. It’s a thought.
The question of who will take care of the old folks is especially challenging for parents with adult children who live far away. Children with their own lives and families to tend to. My mother stayed in her own home until the age of 93. I managed her affairs from a thousand miles away, but it was her neighbors down the block who came through the front door after her life alarm went off. After another fall or a blackout from her irregular heartbeat. She died at 95 in a nursing home.
Everyone should be so fortunate to have such good neighbors. But that is not the case. And so, the question hangs over the dinner table after the last of the baked chicken and sweet potatoes have disappeared.
“Getting old is hell!” says the 88-year-old mother of another farm neighbor. She’s in the Exira Care Center. It is a fine modern nursing home in the small town four miles from our farm. The woman has lost a toe to diabetes and there is more frustration some days than moments that bring her pleasure. And she has children and grandchildren that see her every day.
My wife and I have this standing grim joke, my joke really. I’ve shared it with my adult sons too, in case they need to carry it out. When I reach the point where my life is no longer worth living, they are to take me on the Island Packer boat out of Ventura harbor. The boat will leave me off on Santa Cruz, one of the Channel Islands off the California coast.
I will be there alone, high on the wind-swept hills, with a sleeping bag and a case of Templeton Rye Whiskey. And I will ease out of this world on my terms. With the Island Foxes. And the sounds of the ocean. 

“Right, Jerold,” says my wife. 

“You bet dad,” echo the boys.

Santa Cruz Island

Sitting around that table there seemed to be a shared sense that we should have options if we want them. To end things. Our musing ended over homemade apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. Almost.
That’s when Mike piped up, “I want more lavender moments.” 

“Lavender moments?” my wife asked. “What’s a lavender moment?”

“Times like this,” he said. “A glass of wine. Apple crisp. Good times in life. You ever smell lavender?” 

My wife allowed she does almost every night.  Uses lavender oil as a calming sleep aid. 

Lavender moments. Why not?
My oldest grandsons have already declared the farmhouse is their’s when I die. At ages 9 and 11, they can see the future. It makes me smile. I am delighted they revere the old place. I trust they have feelings for this old man, too.
I have no plans of going anywhere soon. The chainsaw is too much fun and there is plenty of wood to cut. The mindless stuff of cutting one log after another. Keeping track of fingers and feet.
There is a strange comfort in having this big conversation. We are hardly alone with these thoughts. The baby boomer generation that forced so much change in this country, due to its sheer numbers, may have one last demand to make before the dying of the light.
We want it our way.  Right to the very end.  With lots of lavender moments before we go.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Two of the people in Jerry's column have died in the weeks since he wrote his essay. The 88-year-old mother of a farm neighbor who lamented that “Getting old is hell” passed away shortly after suffering a stroke. Susan's mother who had been in hospice care for cancer died earlier in the same week. Her father remains under care for dementia.]


Jerry Bowen is a three-time Emmy Award-winning news correspondent now in retirement after 33 years with CBS Network News. He lives in Los Angeles but escapes regularly to commune with the coyotes and cougars on his family farm in southwest Iowa.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.