Ma Kettle Has a Tattoo: The Stereotype is Now the Exception

As a kid growing up on a farm in the 50s/60s, the only people I knew of with tattoos were WWII military vets.  And I can’t specifically picture the designs because nobody flaunted them back then. So when I read a recent blog from“Dairy Carrie” about farmers with tattoos, it reminded me that farmers are a diverse lot indeed. Her posting features some intricate designs—crosses, flowers, skull art–but the one that intrigued me the most is the tattoo wedding ring. It makes sense. My last sustained bout of farming was decades ago, a tour of duty on a hog farm between teaching jobs, and even though I wear only a small gold band on my finger, I still have the scar from when I caught the ring on the metal bar of a feed wagon and ripped my finger open.
Dairy Carrie’s point was not about my farm safety practices; she opens up a forum for those who know that farmers aren’t all cut from the same mold. Green Acres reruns, corn seed ads on TV, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic may have convinced generations of city folk that farmers all wear denim, drive pick-ups, and chew tobacco, but even in my youth, farmers weren’t sun-wrinkled peas in a cultivated row of pods.
A hog farmer three miles north of our central Iowa farm had a go-cart track in his pasture for teen racers, a family five miles west turned a cattle barn into a successful roller skating rink, and my brothers helped me mow and tend a putting green in our backyard so we could hack away with the wedge and putter that an uncle passed on to us.  From late-night coon dog hunts to competitive tractor pull contests, the community did plenty of what might pass for stereotypical rural pursuits. But other farmers were musicians, artists, and airplane pilots—the neighbor who took up ultralight aircraft was only in for the short haul; he walked away from a crash on his maiden flight and decided farming was already dangerous enough without adding stunt flying to it. 
The rural folk didn’t all listen to Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn. Many of us farm boys started ruining our hearing by plugging transistor radio buds into our ears and listening to Bob Dylan while we cultivated endless rows of corn.  I remember a dusty July field and the metal box radio bolted to the vibrating fender of a 4020 John Deere; I might hear muffled riffs of the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” whenever the tractor was turned in the right direction.  From country music to rap, technology now offers farmers a much broader range.  A few years back, my brother was combining beans in the evening and listening to public radio FM classical music. He called the DJ on his cell phone to request Beethoven’s 7th, and some time later, when the announcer introduced the song, he mentioned that it was requested by a farmer in the field planting crops. My brother made a good-natured call later to let the urbanite know what season of the year it was, and he continues to listen to everything from Gershwin to Zeppelin in his modern air-conditioned cab.
Even though farmers make up an ever-shrinking percentage of the population, they are probably even more diverse now in the high tech digital age.  In some ways, maybe the traditional idea of a farmer is no longer a stereotype but instead a rare lifestyle in its own right. There’s something reassuring about visiting my hometown and seeing folks like my brother-in-law.  It always seems to be chore time; he’s setting his own pace to move from one to another of the endless tasks; and his Great Dane is sitting tall in the passenger’s seat of the pick-up truck when they drive by on the dusty gravel road. On second thought, I think the dog is usually driving.  by Dan Gogerty  (graphic from

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