Oct 1, 2022
Small-town virtues, from the ballpark to the classroom

Sometimes when my son was a little boy, he had trouble falling asleep.

You would think that after a long day of riding a bicycle, practicing T-ball, doing chores (such as they were), playing with his friends, swimming in the pool and enjoying something delicious grilled on the barbecue, he’d be worn out. I know I was. However, even though he was truly bone-tired, and his head may have been nodding, he would fight sleep with his excitement over what was going to happen tomorrow.

I’m sure you know what that can be like with your own kids.

Interestingly, the thing I found I was able to do to get his mind to slow from its lightning-fast racing over what was going to come with the break of the next day’s dawn and get his breathing to deepen so that sleep would finally come, was something that if you asked him about it today, he would probably describe it as akin to torture.

I found that his restlessness would abate, and his sleep would nestle him deeply if I would sing to him … softly.

Well, maybe just short of torture. But it worked.

I’d usually start off with a song I sang to him as I rocked him when he was an infant that I had made up, letting him know how special he is. Then, because I’m not much of a lyricist and because others do it so much better, I would gently sing others’ songs to him.

He loves baseball and we’d sometimes go to the minor league games in our town.

He always enjoyed singing along during the seventh inning stretch that, after 9/11, and before the playing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” included a rendition of “God Bless America,” played over the loudspeakers often from a recording by Kate Smith.

So, I would quietly sing “God Bless America” to the poor child.

After that, I would notice he would calm, and I could hear him slipping into a snooze. But because he wasn’t quite there yet I would deliver up the grand finale! I would gently sing a song that is today found in hymnals used in many churches. “America the Beautiful.”

Perhaps my little boy didn’t appreciate it at the time but my song choices for him as I was trying to soothe him into slumber was, in a fashion, to share with him a sense of not only how special he is to his dad, but also how important and special our nation is too.

I have spent nearly all my life surrounded by agriculture. I was blessed to grow up in a part of the country where it was the engine that made our little town and its economy chug along.

Most of the kids I went to school with and said the Pledge of Allegiance with every morning as the custodian raised the flag on its pole were sons and daughters of farmers and ranchers.

I don’t know if I understood at that point that I would spend so much of my career working on their behalf.

The friends and schoolmates I grew up with are much like the folks in agriculture I get to work with today. They have a sense of hard work, they know how hard a dollar is to make, they love their families, hold a strong sense of community, their values are the light that guides their path, and they have an abiding faith and pride in America.

Not bad characteristics to possess.

I guess I can only hope that due in some small way to the songs that I would torment my little boy with as I was trying to help him fall asleep, I was able to impart to him some of those small-town virtues I learned that make me so appreciative of so many things in life. And perhaps he will share those virtues with a little boy or girl of his own one day.

And just maybe, one day, he’ll be able to forgive me for the agony my singing voice surely caused.

“From sea to shining sea.”

—Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers 


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