This is how neighbors show love

By Sam Venable
If your “lower 40” is a suburban lawn, you may not have noticed but East Tennessee is in the midst of first-cut hay season.

Wherever I’ve traveled in recent days, I’ve seen evidence of this winnowing, small plots to large.

On some, the cut is fresh: thick, straight green lines about to bake yellow under cloudless skies. The term “make hay while the sun shines” has literal meaning among farmers.

On others, rows have been teddered. Temperature and time have done their job. Baling begins.

There are many benefits to writing about hay, as opposed to doing the actual work. The sight of endless square bales waiting to be loaded onto a slow-moving wagon wracks my spine and arms with sympathy pains. Little wonder why round bales and tractor spears aren’t the preferred option today.

But of all the hay operations taking place in our midst right now, I call your attention to several going on in Loudon County. They speak highly of the true Volunteer spirit.

You may have noticed in our obituaries a few days ago the news of Walter Longworth’s passing. Walter, 62, was a lifelong farmer in the Philadelphia community. As the funeral message noted, he “loved farming and his cows and anything to do with John Deere tractors.”

In late 2011, Walter underwent surgery for a brain tumor. As if there’s ever a “good” time for such a disaster — particularly in the 24/7 world of farming — the operation came just as he was about to bring in wood to warm their house for the coming winter.

Not to worry. Two dozen friends and neighbors arrived bright and early. They brought chain saws, pneumatic log splitters and strong backs. By dark, the supply was cut, split, stacked and ready.

The story continues.

“Even after a year of treatments, Walter’s health did not improve,” Ruth Henderson McQueen, a close family friend, told me. “He spent most of the last 18 months on the living room couch or in the hospital bed that replaced the couch a few weeks ago.

“Walter and his wife Betty are salt-of-the-earth people. Their son Mark is a diesel mechanic and has done all the farming since his father’s illness. He also does custom hay work in Loudon County.”

Walter died one week ago, May 28. Right in the heart of hay season.

Again, not to worry.

Ruth said that as the family gathered to prepare for Walter’s funeral, many of the same friends and neighbors turned out to bring in Mark’s hay crops.

“What a fitting tribute,” she added.

“Also, as we drove from the funeral home to the cemetery, almost all the traffic on the road pulled over in a show of respect — including one farmer on a John Deere tractor. We decided it was a sign from above.”