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As one who was born and raised in Buffalo, I had little opportunity to learn about rural life. We did visit the country over the years, but it was not until I bought my own piece of property in a rural area that I had a chance to learn about it firsthand.

I own a small piece of land on a quiet country road. One afternoon, a car pulled up and an elderly gentleman got out. He was tall and heavyset, and he walked with a cane. He wanted to know who it was that kept our property so neatly maintained. The gentleman introduced himself as the owner of a large farm that was located on a road around the corner.

I knew exactly where he meant. I remembered years ago, when I was much younger, seeing a large dairy herd at his place. His property and barn were always very clean and neatly maintained. As the years passed and I no longer saw the herd, I wondered where they had gone.

From first appearance, I could see that this man had worked very hard all his life. Now, in his later years, he could still get around, but it was obvious that he suffered much pain. He did not complain.

As country folk will do, Farmer Robert became a regular visitor, stopping by when we were up camping for the weekend. He would sit a spell, visit with us and talk about old times. We listened.

When we passed his house, he was usually sitting up on his front porch and we would beep the horn and wave.

He told us about his wife of many years and how she had passed away. He lived in the big farmhouse by himself now. Although he had family nearby, one can still feel lonely at times.

Farmer Robert, at age 83, had farm-fresh eggs for breakfast every day. He would drink nothing but whole milk and eat only pure butter. He made the best homemade bread with all of the above ingredients, which he brought us on occasion along with a joke or two. He told us about clean herds and bacteria count, and with his stories, instilled in me a keener awareness and appreciation for farmers and their families everywhere.

I enjoyed his visits as he shared with us just a bit of his vast knowledge of dairy farming. This knowledge had been passed down from his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. But it seemed to have come to an end with his generation. He told us how farmers were not getting much for a quart of milk. We were amazed at how little the farmer's share was. It just did not seem fair.

And so I started paying much more attention to those around us as we visited this small community on our weekend trips. I noticed the bowed backs, the swollen arthritic hands, the shuffling walks of those who must have spent thousands of hours riding heavy farm equipment, operating a working dairy farm, growing and then harvesting food.

I have since turned an ear to the sound of heavy machinery starting up at the crack of dawn and still going strong on those warm summer nights when the days are long and sound rolls over the hills for miles. As I sat in the small-town restaurant listening to the stories around me, I learned to appreciate the sense of humor and the warm, easy-going way of these hard-working individuals. Those are traits that have become somewhat foreign in the urban setting.

I remembered something I was taught in my childhood -- that the American farmer was the backbone of our great country. Without farmers, we would not be able to survive. How strongly this truth hit me again. I wondered if children are still being taught how important farming is to our lives.

I have become more at home in my rural setting than anywhere else. I look forward to the day when I can become a permanent resident and hopefully find my own place in this little community.

Farmer Robert passed away at the end of last summer. I miss his visits, but I will never forget him. Each time I pass the farmhouse, I look up, wave and say a silent thank you.

CAROL A. CHRISTOPHER has lived in Buffalo all her life. She spends her weekends and vacations in Chautauqua County.
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