Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sometimes, an obituary's not enough. Sometimes, a news story's not enough. Sometimes, you need the whole eulogy.

David Ainsworth gave one of his cows a shot in his barn in 2007.
(Photo by Ikuru Kuwajima; copyright, The Valley News)
Community newspapers increasingly charge for obituaries, an unfortunate result of digital media's erosion of their advertising base. But the news columns of the best community papers still include news obits about people who made their mark on the community or region. And sometimes a paper will double down and run a long tribute to a truly unique individual. The Valley News of Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., did that with the moving, funny and insightful eulogy for a well-known dairy farmer and former state legislator, David Ainsworth, by Corey Chapman, a veteran of Afghanistan.

He gets you with the first sentence: "I once got drunk on a beach in Hawaii. Now let’s be really honest here, how many of you thought I would open with that?" Turns out it was the only time his wife had seen him cry, until Ainsworth died. Chapman moved on to plainspoken, entertaining descriptions of Ainsworth the farmer: a manure pit with "chocolate sauce," doctoring a cow ("We used to run calcium into a sick cow’s jugular like it was a NASCAR pit stop"), baling hay on a slope ("He knew just how to maneuver in order to have the bale sit perfect every time"), and just passing the time ("He would always tell a quick story of times gone by and we would sit there looking out over the town of Royalton. Those were my favorite times with him: side by side.")

Ainsworth had been ill, but Chapman only hinted at it: "He always answered the phone when he knew it was me by saying 'Hello, sir,' or 'Hello, Mr. Chapman.' Lately he had been calling quite a few of us here today on a regular basis. He would call me and ask how the cows were doing and how my family was and then talk for a while about some ideas he had. I wish I had talked to him longer because I’m sure going to miss that 'Hello, sir,' that I’ll never hear again."

After reading a poem he found online about a just-passed farmer, Chapman closed the sale: "I would like to remind you all that David Ainsworth was a dying breed of Vermonter. A member of the old guard of our beautiful culture here, he was the type of man that we are losing more and more of every day. The wise old man with the big smile and the kind heart. Back to basics and pure luck and faith. When Merle Howe and George Spaulding and other old farmers pass away, I remember how much dies with them, a whole history of the way things used to be and how they should be now, memories and stories of a way of life that we will never know because they are gone now. So if you know any old timers in your life, these old wise men, do as I did with Dave: Spend as much time as you can talking and working with them and learn all that you possibly can from them before it is too late and they are gone, and that world of knowledge is gone too. If I could send a message to Dave I would say the farm is in good hands. . . . I wish you could see the crowd here today and the one at your farm yesterday. If you wanted to know if you impacted anyone in your life,  you should just look around. We all loved you and owed you so much for all that you have done for us. You will never be forgotten, as you have instilled in all of us your love of the land and this great state. We love you, Dave. Goodbye, sir."

No comments: