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Time to say goodbye to Dad

It’s a beautiful July morning as the sun climbs over the hill to shine on our valley.

Puffy white clouds dot the powder-blue sky.

The air is filled with bird songs.

It’s been over a week since I watched my father, Robert Hardie, take his last breath. I selfishly tried to keep him with us a little longer but my life-saving attempts fell short. Dad died at about 7:20 p.m. on Independence Day, in his home with Mom at his side and his favorite drink in his hand — a tequila gimlet.

Dad, 82, had been ailing for several years after a bout with leukemia, reduced blood-platelet production that weakened him and dementia. His mobility had become limited. He fought the good fight.

We knew Dad’s time was growing shorter, so we had time to prepare. It’s easy to say but a little more difficult to do. Whether death comes suddenly or slowly, it’s still a shock.

Recently I posted a photo on social media that was taken in 1956 at a family wedding reception. It showed my larger-than-life father as a 19-year-old pitching horseshoes with a perfect form and a cigar clenched between his teeth.

Dad was solid — 5-foot-10, 220 pounds — and anchored by a pair of size 13 EEE feet. He built his strength working summers as a teen on his uncle’s farm. Combined with a booming voice, he was an intimidating presence.

The photo generated lots of comments about my handsome father — taken three years before he was married and seven years before I was more than a glint in his eye. The celebrity comparisons were James Dean and Paul Newman.

Newman won out because that’s whom Mom thinks he looked like.

That strength likely kept Dad battling far longer than others would. Mom wanted him to see their 60th wedding anniversary; he did that plus 10 months. He was able to go into the woods this past fall for his 70th season of deer hunting.

In his final week, Dad spent time with his two sons, his five grandchildren and his seven great-grandchildren. It wasn’t a deathbed vigil, just a random series of visits. For a few brief hours at a family dinner, the fog of his dementia lifted enough that he told a few stories and laughed with the others — just like the good old days.

What a skeptic would call coincidence I would call divine providence. The family was drawn to Dad because it was time.

Dad’s voice was the topic of many family stories and was also featured in his funeral sermon. When Dad read liturgy in church there was no need for amplification. Little children sometimes asked if that was God’s voice. It also carried through the valley around the farm — whether we were being admonished or being summoned for a meal.

The gruff and tough persona mellowed in his later years. When my mother miraculously survived a major brain hemorrhage in 2007, he stayed at her side in the hospital for more than a month, coming home from Rochester, Minn., only once during the entire ordeal.

Dad became a better husband because he knew what he almost lost. And his soft spot for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew larger with each passing day.

In the end, Dad’s legendary strength and his booming voice were largely gone. But not his faith. This past fall as Dad sat on the porch during a pastoral visit, he was asked how he was doing.

“I’m ready to go,” Dad said, adding he didn’t know why he was still around.

Dad knew he was going the last time he looked at me, tears pouring down his face. My tears of sadness mixed with his tears of joy as I tried to breathe life into his mouth. But Dad’s last taste of dinner and tequila were no match for the sweetness of heaven.

They say people go through various stages of grief following the loss of a loved one — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But not everyone goes through all those emotions and they aren’t always in that order.

I’ve skipped through the first four because it was Dad’s time to go. It’s foolish and selfish to think otherwise.

And I take comfort in the words written by my grandmother Cecile Hardie in 1977, describing how she responded to the death of her mother the day before her wedding. Little did I know when I wrote about her story recently that her words would provide solace after another death.

“We have always known that after the rains, the sunshine comes because we know from our experience that sorrow doesn’t stay with you unless you dwell on it,” she wrote. “Happiness comes after grief.”

I am working on acceptance. Thank you for allowing me to share.

It grows better with each day.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at

We don't even choose 'herd immunity' for livestock

Two generations ago, no one in the cattle business ever thought “herd immunity” was a solution to bovine brucellosis. Instead, farmers and ranchers, often with the help of U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians, blood-tested every animal they could find to discover, trace, and isolate the disease’s source and spread.

It was hard, dirty work but it was the best science available until a vaccine virtually eliminated the costly disease.

Today, more than a few politicians suggest herd immunity as an effective way to fight America’s again-raging COVID-19 pandemic. These folks can’t be farmers or ranchers because, if they were, they’d know rural people aren’t as cavalier about the lives of their animals as some politicians seem to be about the lives of their constituents.

Besides, herd immunity, according to experts at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, often is deadly to acquire. An adequate level of herd immunity against COVID-19 requires 60 to 70 percent of the world to become infected and — here’s the hard part — survive coronavirus over a period of 18 to 24 months. During that time, they estimate, 800,000 Americans would die before our herd — you and me — would become modestly immune.

So, who wants to go first?

I don’t remember one cow ever dying before, during, or after “bangs” testing. I do remember, though, that everyone — we, our neighbors, and the nation — benefited from our safe, collective efforts.

Today’s collective COVID effort has been anything but collective and now millions of Americans face years of untold hardship. Even rural America, that vast sea of cultural tranquility, is shaking at its financial roots.

For example, on July 14, the ag economists at the University of Illinois’ farmdocDAILY published an eye-popping report on how our toxic omelet of declining crop insurance benefits, terrible export policy, and COVID-19 has smashed Illinois farm income.

According to Illinois farm records, “Overall, incomes averaged $189,000 per farm per year for the years 2006 to 2013. From 2014 to 2019, incomes… [were] $100,000 less per farm, with a $78,000 yearly average.”

But now, “trade disputes” — a phrase that softens our woodenheaded tariff fights with key American ag customers — and a continuation of ever- declining crop insurance coverage, 2020 farm income pre-COVID is projected at a puny $44,330.

Post-COVID 2020 farm income is worse: a knee-buckling -$25,033.

That estimate, the economists quickly add, “does not include other forms of assistance… [including] additional Federal aid currently being discussed in Congress…”

True, but “More worrisome is 2021, which likely will have lower levels of Federal aid. Given recent setbacks in Coronavirus control, it seems reasonable [that]… 2021 could be a very low-income year for Illinois grain farmers.”

Not everyone in American ag, however, is getting plucked. Take the chicken kings, for example.

On late Friday, July 17, USDA’s “Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced its approval of a petition filed by the National Chicken Council,” reported Food & Water Watch, “to permit chicken that is infected with the avian disease Leukosis to be fit for human consumption.”

Prior to the rule change, chicken “carcasses found to have this disease were to be condemned and removed from further processing.”

Who, other than the owners and shareholders of chicken processors, thinks allowing formerly condemned chicken carcasses into the American and export food chains is a good idea anytime let alone during a global pandemic?

But it’s doubtful many will ever know because that day FSIS also approved an industry request to increase chicken kill line speeds from “140 birds per minute to 175 birds.”

At three birds per second, it’s hard to “inspect” any chicken for the right number of body parts, let alone for Leukosis, “a tumor-causing (neoplastic) viral infection of young chickens.”

But hey, as awful but lawful as the FSIS’s actions are, in 18 to 24 months we should develop herd immunity to any new pathogen we’re dining on, right?

Well, some of us anyway.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at

© 2020 ag comm

COVID-19 is undermining our human nature

The COVID-19 virus is cruel.

It causes illness and death. It disrupts our economy, leaving families with strained finances. It leads businesses to appeal for bankruptcy protection. Families don’t know what to do about children returning to school. Stress levels are high. This is all hard.

It’s possible we don’t even pay enough attention to the cruelest aspect of the pandemic. In order to fight the disease in our midst, we are asked to cover our faces. When our health experts ask us to do this, it seems inconvenient, uncomfortable and it fogs our glasses. But far worse than that it makes our social distancing even more painful because we can’t easily read each other’s emotions.

We are social, emotional creatures. We thrive by communicating and by sharing our emotional state with those around us. Facial expression is central to our interactions. With a glance we share feelings before even saying a word. Now that sharing is blocked by a damn face cover.

Remember how our children began communicating with us as infants through facial expression before they even learned to speak? That facial communication did not stop with infancy. It is the foundation of our communication, and it leads to subconscious release of hormones: oxytocin for love and peace and epinephrine/cortisol for the fight or flight response.

To make things worse, this virus causes us to keep our distance and halt touching. We are primates for God’s sake. Look at how much our evolutionary cousins enjoy touch. The grooming reflex is soothing. It releases a vagal nerve response. It assures us that all is good in the world. Now the virus deprives us of soothing one other: that firm or limp handshake, the gentle pat on the back, a hug to confirm shared joy or sorrow. Amid COVID-19 we miss emotional communication and suffer immensely from its loss.

What can we do?

Our human species is under attack by this virus that has found a home in our population. Without us all together, the virus would have no place to live, dying unless it could find another species to live in. We need to take away the virus’ home: us.

Our species is known for our ability to band together with shared intention to get things done. We can collaborate to achieve things, and this is what makes us the most capable species on Earth. We can deprive the virus of a place to live by working together to get the job done.

It isn’t easy. In fact, it is going to be downright hard. The first thing that we need to do is to stop fighting with each other, one group against another. One group not trusting the other. When we fight amongst ourselves, we undermine our greatest strength to collaborate. Then the virus is happy to keep living in us, in our communities, in our living space.

There are still many uncertainties about the biology of the virus. We hope for a vaccine, but there is no guarantee that it will work. We hope for herd immunity, but that too may not work if individual immune responses are unable to develop long-term protection after infection.

What we do know is the ability of the virus to pass from individuals is blocked by adoptable behaviors. I call them the three “W” behaviors: Wash our hands and stop touching our faces, watch our distance to keep more than 6 feet apart, and wear our face cover whenever in the presence of others who are not part of our safe household circle.

Wash hands, watch our distance, wear face cover.

If we do these things, all the time, and without interruption, we deprive the virus of a place to live.

Doing these three behaviors is hard. Our hands get raw from washing, and we love touching our face. It seems rude to back away from others to protect our safe space of separation. It is hard to cover our face because we cannot easily read one another’s facial expressions and enjoy that window into our emotional communication.

Besides the three “W” behaviors, we need to do a couple other things to get through this. We need to be gentle with one another. We need to give extra emotional benefit of the doubt. We need to realize that our normal emotional cues are being deprived to us. We need to be sure to hug one another in our household space and to be appreciative of emotional cues that we receive there. We need to pay extra attention to one another’s eyes as we seek cues not otherwise available behind our face cover.

If we adopt the three “W” behaviors, our public health experts will help us win this war with the other creature that is living off of us. We can kill the virus from our living space. Our public health experts ask us to test for the virus in our bodies when we have symptoms and ask us to help with contact tracing and isolation of cases that are found. The better we practice the three “W” behaviors, the fewer cases of infection we will see and the fewer isolation experiences we will need. Then we will be able to get back what is ours, a place where we can live as thriving human beings, hugging, touching, and sharing our emotional experiences. We need to band together to get the job done.

Neumann is a retired pediatric critical care doctor who lives in La Crosse and a member of Wisconsin Farmers Union.