I am bound to the Gulley Family, by blood and honor and love.
Ed was my closest friend and he entrusted me with his fears, dreams and wishes. He asked me to be a witness to his thoughts when he was gone, and to give testimony, if needed, to the way in which he chose to die.
Carol is also a friend, and a student in my writing class. I have always felt close to her, we met in cardiac rehab, we saw each other every day for weeks as Ed sickened and died.
I am determined to be faithful to that trust, even though it brings me to the brink of things I really hate: invading people’s privacy, intruding on their decisions, speaking indirectly.
I can save no one but myself, and never presume that I can. But a promise is a promise, there is no place to dither.
Carol Gulley knew Ed much better than I did, and for a much longer time, but in the final weeks and months of his life he gave me the gift of his honesty and his trust and hopes.
We made videos together, drew together, talked for hours.
It is not something I sought or wanted, but I will do the best I can with it.
Carol Gulley, someone I much admire, wrote a post on her blog today that shook me. I knew I had to write about it.
She wrote that Ed’s plan for his children to take over his farm was not working.
She has decided to milk the cows herself, twice a day, and said she “cannot and will not give my animals away…”
She said “we all should have gotten involved and made it work and thrown our personal feelings out the window.”
She wrote that she is back in it, not as a farmer’s wife…”I now have become the farmer.”
The Carol who wrote this piece feels guilty, as if Ed’s death and the farm’s troubles were all of her making.
Carol is milking her cows by herself as the winter approaches. “My body has grown older, she writes, “and as soon as I get over this lameness I will be on my game again..I will make my Farmer proud…perhaps by continuing to farm or maybe by deciding not to any longer. Either way he will know I am doing my best…besides, I have to answer to him one day.”
I have not had much connection to Carol or her family since Ed’s death. They do not confide in me, or seek my counsel, which is their rightful choice. I see Carol when she can come to my writing class, and beyond that we have barely seen or spoken with one another.
I am writing this here because I think I need to say some things that need to be out there, ideas that need to live and be seen, perhaps by her or her family or her friends.
When Carol says she will be “on her game” after her lameness miraculously vanishes, my heart sinks, this is not the way getting older works.
I don’t think she is looking to talk to me right now, or she would have called, but I have to speak for Ed, and writing is how I do it. The blog is my voice, my mother in some ways.
It has a power all of its own. It demands that I speak my truth.
I want to say that Ed and I spoke many times about his wishes for Carol after he died. I was present when he said he wanted to return in 30 years and see Brown Swiss Steers on Bejosh Farm.
He and I argued about that wish, I thought it was selfish and inconsiderate of his children’s own lives. He told me he thought it was a way they could all come together and keep the farm running. He also told me he knew it was a very long shot.
Ed said it wasn’t a literal wish, he knew it might not work out, and if it didn’t, “then so be it.” I asked him what he wanted for Carol and he could not have been clearer about it, or said it more frequently.
He said he wishes for her to be happy, and healthy and safe.
His whole plan for the kids taking over the farm was so that she didn’t have to work so hard any longer. Dairy farming is grueling, even for the young and the hardy. And Carol had open heart surgery about the same time I did, four years ago. She’s been limping for months.
Ed’s wish was that his family would come together and find a way to diversity their talents and make the farm work, in one form or another. This didn’t happen. I don’ t think anyone in the family really thought it could happen.
In Ed’s mind, the farmhouse would be protected and Carol would live in it for the rest of her life, the children would manage the farm through experimentation and diversification.
In his vision, he saw Carol as marrying again one day, even though the thought made him jealous. He hoped that this is what would happen.
Ed loved his cows dearly, he did not ever love them more than Carol or his children. He would want what was best for them.
Ed never once imagined in his vision – at least not out loud to me – that Carol would end up virtually alone on the farm with a dairy herd of Swiss Steers she had to feed and milk, almost entirely by herself, especially with the health issues she confronts daily.
He never wished to be a heavy burden for her to bear, an ideal for her to live up to, a heavenly ghost for her to answer to. He wanted her to be happy and peace and safe, he said it a thousand times.
If Carol were asking me, I would tell her that Ed would be very sad to think that she felt she had to answer to him for every decision, or answer to him at all.
I do not believe he would ever had considered the failure of the farm to be a failure of family character or will, a question of coming together.
He knew as well or better than anyone what the prospects were for small dairy farms, he talked about it almost every day. He told me 100 times that milk prices today are the same price as they were in 1970. No small dairy farmer can last long this way, he said.
Ed told me he believed in Heaven, and he believed that he and Carol would be re-united there, and he would be so happy to be with her again. This thought sustained him.
When they met, it is beyond my imagination to think he would be disappointed in any way to be reunited with his partner of 47 years, the mother of his children, his soulmate on his farm.
I don’t think he would have accepted the idea that there is a litmus test for heaven, that only successful dairy farmers can get in. He would laugh at how lonely that would be. Carol is a good person with a big heart. She’ll have no trouble getting a pass.
There were no conditions in Ed’s dream, he loved Carol and was sorry they never got to talk more in this life until he got brain cancer. Even though I disagreed with his plan for his family, I know he saw his “plan,” as he called it, as a way to take care of Carol for the rest of her life.
Ed had a good-sized ego, and was known to drift to arrogance, but he never thought of himself as a kind of deity, as all-knowing and profoundly wise.
He knew how smart Carol is, and how tough. And he told me a thousand times that the only good thing about brain cancer was that he had some time for himself, and didn’t have to work so damn hard every day. That is not what he wished for Carol.
I do not believe he would ever have wanted to be seen as someone the people he loved would have to answer to at their reckoning. He often laughed at himself – and he and I often laughed at each other. Ed saw himself as a fierce individual, but still as an ordinary man and as a proud farmer.
He was no wallflower, but there was real humility in him.
I don’t believe he would ever have wanted Carol to make all of her decisions based on him, or what he might do, especially after he was gone. I believe he wanted Carol to live like him – to make her own decisions for herself, and accept responsibility for them.
I understand that Carol’s choices are hers, and not mine, and that what she does with her life is up to her.
But reading her column today shook me to the core, the thought of her milking cows by herself through the heart of winner, with no thought or profit or sustenance drove me to the keyboard.
This is what I have to write, and if she gets to read it, I hope she can hear it and consider it in the spirit in which it was written.
This is not what Ed wanted for her.
You can read the Bejosh Farm Journal here.