by Patrick Slattery
We’ve just finished up a nine day work stint by my farmhand nephew, Christopher Pundzak. Christopher is no stranger to our house, a frequent weekend visitor. He lives in Sun Praire, about two hours away. The first time he came for a longer haul in order to work and obtain more money than his per usual occupation of four hours per week washing windows at the Catholic parish where his mother, Cecile, is the Music Director. Chris is no ordinary farmhand because since birth he’s had cerebral palsy. Movements that come easy to you and me don’t come easy to him. If I had to exert the energy to get through a day that Christopher does, I might consider not getting out of bed. He takes some hellacious falls on a regular basis, but always gets up and keeps going. So while Christopher doesn’t have a farmers arms or back, he has the heart. He loves the life, and not just from afar, and wants to contribute in any way that he can. For this week Chris’s primary occupation has been to break apart garlic cloves for fall planting (you know of course that garlic should be planted in October). He spent most days in the barn alone doing his garlic work, slowly, patiently, but always with steady determination. I heard him singing at times, which was a good sign, so he must have enjoyed his solitary work. The beauty of it was that he got the job done- the garlic is ready to plant.
Working with garlic wasn’t the only thing Christopher did this week. He also got involved with other tasks, such as harvesting Napa Cabbage and packing butternut squash for delivery to Organic Valley. But the romance and highlight for him, undoubtedly, was his work driving our New Holland Tractor, Babe.
You might think that I’m crazy to allow this to happen, but believe me, Christopher was a willing accomplice. In times past he used to drive a lawn tractor at his mother’s home near Rockland, WI, and was pretty darn good at it. He’s ultra careful, and in a way I trust him more than a cocky teenager like my son James when he’s behind the wheel. So we put the tractor in first gear low and Christopher climbed up and took command. He did a fine job. Seeing the huge smile on his face was a fine payoff for allowing it to happen.
I feel strongly that all kinds of people, including the disabled, should have a chance to get their hands dirty and do some farmwork. Christopher is normally a high spirited fellow, but it seems that farm work especially put wind in his sails. I’m glad we had the opportunity to have him here and contribute to the autumnal harvest at Sweet Ridge Farm.
This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first article in his series is available here: