The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Thinking Out Loud

Farm Family Insights: Natalie Dowell Schmitt

They say the eyes are the windows to a person's soul. If that is the case, then the hands are the doorway to a person's character. Hands are like an extension of our inner personality. Who we are comes through with how we use our hands. Have you ever looked closely at a farmer's hands? A fortune teller would get lost trying to follow the signs with detours around all the calluses. The deep cracks and rough edges create a feel of sandpaper. The colorful fingernails remind of battles lost with a hammer. Knuckles swollen with arthritis. Despite all the wear and tear, there is a tenderness to a farmer's hand as he wipes away the tears of a broken heart. He gently holds the hand of an elderly parent, connecting their souls for a final goodbye.

Holly Dunn sang a great song called "Daddy's Hands."

"I remember Daddy's hands folded in prayer and reaching out to hold me when I had a nightmare. You could read quite a story in the calluses and lines; years of work and worry had left their mark behind. I remember Daddy's hands working till they bled. Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us fed. If I could do things over, I'd live my life again and never take for granted the love in Daddy's hands."

At a hospice facility in our area, they capture a glimpse of their clients' lives by photographing their hands. It is a black and white photo but tells a colorful story of love and family. The hands of a loving couple in a wedding pose but after all the struggles. A father's hand surrounded by the hands of his children. A picture of frail hands that can no longer lift heavy loads but now lift heavy loads of concerns in folded hands of prayer. Every hand has a story to tell.

A young man was interviewing for his first job out of college. All was going well until the director of hiring asked him a strange question. He asked to see his hands. The young man's hands were soft and perfect. The interviewer asked if the young man had ever helped with his parents at their jobs.

The young man said he had not. "My parents always wanted me to study and read more books. Besides, my dad can do the job better than me."

The director said, "I have a request. When you go home, go and wash your father's hands. Then come back and see me tomorrow."

The young man felt his chances of getting the job were high. When he got home, he asked to wash his father's hands.

Now the father was puzzled, yet he held out his hands to his son. The young man washed his father's hands little by little. It was the first time he really noticed the wrinkles and scars. There were bruises so painful that his skin shuddered under his touch. The work his father's hands had done over the years dawned on him. He recognized what it meant for this pair of hands to work every day to be able to pay for his studies. The bruises were the price he was willing to pay for his son's future. After he had washed his father's hands, the young man silently started to clean up the workshop. That night the father and son talked and listened to one another.

The next morning, the young man returned to office to finish his interview. The interviewer noticed the eyes of the young man were moist and filled with compassion.

"Can you tell me what you did when you got home and what you learned?" he asked.

"I washed my father's hands, and when I finished, I stuck around and cleaned his workshop. It dawned on me that I wouldn't be who I am today without my parents. By helping my father, I now realize how difficult and hard it is to do something on my own. I have come to appreciate the importance and the value of helping my family."

The director smiled.

"That is what I'm looking for in my people. I want to hire someone who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the hardship others go through to accomplish things, and a person who realizes that money is not his only goal in life. You're hired."

I have struggled looking back on our children's younger years. We gave them everything they needed but not always everything they wanted. We expected them to work with us as a family to provide for one another. Sometimes their hands showed signs of hard work and sacrifice. Did we cheat them out of a special childhood filled with sunshine and no worries?

As I watch them live their lives today, I can breathe and know we did right by them. They know what it takes to get a job done. They also appreciate the special times away from work where they can celebrate the joy of being with family and friends.

Children need to learn to appreciate the amount of effort it takes to do a job right. They need to experience difficulties in life that people must overcome to be successful. Most importantly, they need to learn about failure to be able to succeed. We can't always coddle them and protect them from the harder side of life. Life is about giving and serving, qualities which are taught at home on our farms.

Don't be afraid to share the stories your hands can tell with your children. Let them read your story as they wash your hands and discover the priceless gifts you have given them.


As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota. -by Natalie (Dowell) Schmitt