By Patrick Slattery
Not many farmers are fortunate enough to have a silent sidekick. I do in the personage of Gerard (Gary) Elson. Gary is a genuine farm article. Born and raised just over the hill west of Middle Ridge, he has had a lifelong love of all things agricultural. Unfortunately, in later times his farming life unraveled: he suffered a stroke about 12 years ago. As a result, his dairy herd went down the road.
The farm which had been in the Elson family for four generations was sold to a childless cohabitating couple, and Gary moved into a subsidized senior citizen housing complex in West Salem, Wi which is about 12 miles away from his home farm.
Gary is not the kind to sit and do nothing. I tried to help him though his divorce, and when it was clear that the subsidized housing complex was where he would reside, I suggested he come and help out here in the neighborhood if it were to his liking.
It has proven to be an option to his liking, and most days Monday through Friday, Gary can be found here. A senior citizen bus provides very convenient transportation to my house. In previous times, he drove a Polaris ATV 12 miles back and forth from West Salem, but alas! The sheriff’s office pulled him over and put an end to the 5 times a week drive.
Let me state emphatically that I am a big beneficiary of Gary’s regular visitations. Gary is a true farmer and has helped fill some of my knowledge gaps especially when it comes to mechanical understandings. Gary pays attention to the likes of dipsticks and tires, things that don’t seem to capture my attention. He has saved my neck more than a few times. I especially enjoy Gary’s company because we don’t have to talk too much.
Gary’s stroke impeded his speech. I can understand him most of the time, but most people cannot. Hence, I do a lot of his business transactions. A lot of his sentences end with oh, sheete…. There are times that I am glad that he can’t talk because then he can’t say oh shit, I told you so!
Gary has settled into his own groove, and has ended up on his own two feet pretty well considering the life blows that he has taken. He likes livestock and the first thing that he does when he arrives each morning around 8:15 is to feed the chickens. He had got a real nose for finding egg nests in the strangest of places. Whatever the undertaking, Gary has a practical knowledge of how to set up work and get it done. He did a masterful job of organizing my barn’s basement, and spends many a happy hour down there, hammering, sawing and chopping things.
It is a wonderful male domain. The only point of contention is that Gary loves country western music. This doesn’t sit well with my wife. She turns it off when working with us packing produce in the basement of my barn. Detoured, Gary turns the Cow Country station right back on when she isn’t around. To be truthful, I have developed a whole new appreciation of the socio-economic observations provided by county music artists.
Gary and I often times work on projects together in the morning. Things always go better when you have two sets of hands. Gary is a chow hound and is quite appreciative of good fresh food. He communicates thanks to the chef. Afterwards, a half hour nap on our tv room couch is in order, then it’s time for more work.
I knew Gary’s parents who were really beautiful people. His Dad had the kindest look about him and a gentle soul. Gary has much of that in him too. He comes from good stock. I trust that Gary and I have a mutually beneficial relationship. I know that I am grateful for anything that he does. He may not live on the Ridge any longer, but he is and always will be a son of the soil of Middle Ridge.
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 articles in his series is available here: