“See you at 4:00,” Dale nodded as he shut the back passenger door of his son Jeff’s truck and stepped out into the cold January morning. This was great, he thought, getting dropped off at the door at the Crop Production Show. He wouldn’t have to circle the parked trucks looking for a space, then trudge the length of the parking lot to get to the door.
If he was quick, this might be the first time he’d ever gone into Prairieland Park building without fogged-up glasses.
Inside, Dale handed over his pass, then headed straight for the coffee lineup where he’d made plans to meet up with Ben Sanders, a seed grower from the other side of the province. It didn’t take long for the two men to find each other, and Ben bought Dale a cup of coffee.
“Guess the coffee would’ve been free over at the meeting hall,” Dale said.
“Sure,” Ben said. “But we would’ve had to listen to the speakers.”
Dale and Ben had made their decision over the phone the week before. “I guess it’s time,” Ben had agreed after Dale proposed the idea. “We should probably give our boys some space if they’re going to make decisions on the farm and run these organizations.”
After years of meeting up at seed association meetings, commodity group AGMs and agronomy seminars, this year they would leave their sons and daughters-in-law to brave the business meetings on their own. As his wife Donna had pointed out when they’d talked about it at home, “It’s probably time to give them some breathing room.”
But after a lifetime of going to farm shows, Dale didn’t want to stay home altogether. “I always said I wished I had more time to just go to Saskatoon and look at the machinery,” he said. “This year I’ll do it.”
Dale had ridden to Saskatoon with Jeff and Jeff’s wife Elaine. Jeff would drop his dad off at the machinery show before he and Elaine drove downtown for the business meetings.
Over coffee Ben and Dale traded updates. Dale talked about how Jeff was managing their new farm employee on his own, ignoring Dale’s ideas about wages. Ben told Dale how hard it was for him to see his son swap their red combine for a new one with green paint. “And the price? I could’ve got that thing for at least five per cent less,” Ben said.
“We’d better let them learn,” Dale said. “We’re not getting younger.”
“No kidding,” Ben said. “I got these new hearing aids last week. I spent half the trip to the city trying to convince my son there was something wrong with his truck. Turns out I’d just never noticed how loud these winter tires are when you’re on the highway.”
Dale laughed, trying not to worry about whether or not he needed hearing aids himself.
Coffee finished, the two men hit the show. They started with the latest in tractors and combines. “Look at the sectional control on this new air cart,” Ben said. Dale got in for a good look. “I wish Jeff had bought one of these instead of the brand he got,” Dale said.
Ben checked his watch. “Almost noon,” he said. “Want to catch that seminar on plant stand targets?”
“Might as well,” Dale said. “I think they’ve got some new ideas.”
Ben pulled out his smartphone and typed in a few notes during the presentation in the meeting room. When the talk was over he turned to Dale. “I’m emailing this over to my son. We argued about this last spring. Turns out I was right.”
“Oh?” Dale said, eyebrows raised.
“You’re right,” Ben said, turning his smartphone back on and deleting the file. “Nothing worse than somebody saying ‘I told you so.’”
The two followed the flow of traffic until they found themselves back in the machinery hall. “Take a look at this draper header,” Ben said, pulling Dale out of the aisle. Dale took a look.
“This looks way better than the one Jeff came home with last year,” Dale said. “Just hang on a minute. Let me get a few photos.” Within in minute Dale had crawled right under the header and was holding his phone up, making sure he had all the details, when a young salesman came over.
“Nice piece of equipment, isn’t it,” he said.
“Sure is,” Dale said from under the header. “I’m just getting a few photos to I can tell my son why we need one of these… ”
Ben interrupted him mid-sentence. “Wait a minute.”
“What’s that?” Dale called out.
“We said we weren’t going to do this.”
“Do what?” Dale said.
“Tell them what to do,” Ben said.
There was a silence from under the header, then Dale crawled out. He got up slowly, massaging his left knee. “Yeah. We did say that.”
“You know what to do,” Ben said, looking pointedly at Dale’s phone.
Dale laughed and deleted the photos he’d just taken, then the two men stood looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do next.
“Do you want brochures?” the young salesman asked.
Dale shook his head. “No. I guess not.”
“You can still enter our draw for a garden tractor,” the salesman said.
“No thanks,” Ben said.
As they walked away from the booth, Dale turned to look back. “That kid can’t be older than 12,” he said to Ben.
“They’re getting younger every year,” Ben said. “I’ve got an idea.
“What’s that?” Dale asked.
“Every year we’ve come to Saskatoon and spent all day at meetings. This year why don’t we shut ’er down early and go get a drink.”
Dale looked at his watch. Not quite 1:30. “Why not?” he said. “As long as I’m at the door by 4:00.”
They made their way to the bar and were about to sit down when Dale noticed someone waving from across the room. “I know that guy. He’s from Tisdale. He used to be on the seed growers board.”
“That guy with him looks familiar too,” Ben said.
As they got close the man who had waved called out a greeting. “First year skipping the business meetings?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Dale said sheepishly.
“Year two for me,” he answered. “Don’t worry, it gets easier.”
Before long they were settled in at the table full of men, all in various stages of passing their farms on to their sons. Except Bruce, who was passing his operation on to his daughter.
“She knows what she’s doing,” Bruce said. “But it’s hard to keep from giving her advice.”
This made Dale laugh so hard he snorted rye and coke out his nose. “Excuse me,” he said. “That’s what I get for drinking in the afternoon. I hope the kids don’t find out.”
Then he checked his watch. Almost four. “Oh heck,” he said, “I’ve got to go.”
“Me too!” Ben said.
They made it to the door with two minutes to spare.
“Same time next year?” Ben said.
“You bet,” Dale answered, as he walked out into the cold to get into Jeff’s truck.