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Remembering Mr. Payne

November 17, 2011

When Richard Nixon gathered his White House staff in the East Room of the White House to say goodbye, the day after he resigned as President of the United States, his thoughts were on his mother.

“Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother … but she was a Saint,” Nixon said halfway through his speech that August 9, 1974 morning.

He recited examples of her good deeds and the people she touched while she was alive. She obviously had a great impact on his life.

He lamented that morning that the outside world would not know his mother, but that wasn’t the point at all. At this incredibly emotional moment, he drew strength from her life.

Most of us can think of friends or family who we think of that way too, and if we are fortunate, we too can draw strength from those individuals when we need them the most.

One such person was Vernon Payne. He was my neighbor and we became friends a few years ago about the time he turned 80.

Mr. Payne was a unique individual. He was a tenant farmer for 60 years, and his Dad was a farmer before him. He raised cattle and planted crops on 300 acres, and throughout the years weathered droughts, blizzards, coyote scares, hay shortages, equipment failures, lean prices, sick livestock, and more.

He had a special fondness for each of his cows and took seriously the responsibility for their care and well being.

He had good insights into human nature far beyond what he learned on the farm, although that was considerable, too. I would often stop and see him, and invariably we talked politics, the weather, or other things that were going on in the world. He liked it when I brought him a peach.

He always had a keen observation which undoubtedly made me look at things in a different light. He followed politics, and I could usually tell which way the next election might go based on what he thought of the candidates.

He was one of those rare individuals who was genuinely interested in your life, and always wanted the best result for you.

He taught me an appreciation for people who could carve out a living and a livelihood from the land. I liked the fact that he spent more time worrying about where his cattle were grazing then he did about what Congress or the President had on their agenda that day.

We once talked about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9-11, and only then did he tell me that he had never been to New York City.

I felt sad about the fact that he’d never seen the Big Apple, an exciting place everyone should experience once, but his life was in the fields on the farm, and he didn’t have time for vacations or travel.

When he reached 90 a few years ago his health began to give way, and trudging through snow, sleet, and other kinds of weather became difficult for him.

No one told him to stop – he knew it was time and began to wind down the farm. He started to sell the equipment and livestock as his health continued to slowly decline.

He lived his final years in an assisted living facility, a far cry from the beautiful scenery, openness and freedom he enjoyed on farm for over 60 years. He died quietly earlier this year.

No one will write a book about Mr. Payne, either.

But who can forget summer days with a friend under the shade of the trees.

Eating a peach and talking about life.