Sunday, August 29, 2010

Knoxville, Tennessee: Calvin Copeland

Calvin Copeland is nearing his 90’s but his eyes twinkle brightly and his voice rings with slow laughter as he tells us story after story about growing up farming. I become the source of his laughter at one point when he realizes I’ve never “scalded” a pig, part of the butchering process.

Calvin grew up here in Tennessee and remembers when the farming was done with men and mules and hand implements; now it is done with driverless tractors operating on a GPS system. Calvin’s farm was a community hang-out place ("headquarters" he called it several times). When his kids were in high school the football team would spend the day working and the evening jumping in the lake and picnicking and having fun.
Beef is mainly what Calvin raises, though he has another farm in Nebraska he raises milo on (milo is also known as grain sorghum). He and his wife split their year between the two states. While we visit, his daughter and family stop by. She weedwhacks around the pond and her little girls get their suits and swimmies on and plunge in on this incredibly hot day. “Baloney” (Calvin’s affectionate nickname for his wife) gets everyone cold drinks and from the happy sounds all around I can imagine what this place used to sound like when the football team worked and played here.
Calvin and Baloney insist on doing things themselves. It's great to have the kids around and his daughter and son-in-law are taking over the primary farm activities, but for many decades the two of them have driven their own tractors, bucked their own hay (with the footballers of course), and fixed all of their own mechanics, striving for a simple life on the rural outskirts of Knoxville. Across the homemade lake ("we always wanted a pond. We made one."), near the grape vines, stands a homemade gazebo. In the past he has had a business in town selling truck canopies (back when they were a new trend). As a young man he took a job as a salesman, but the owner of the business wasn't making ends meet. Calvin bought the business outright and turned it into a profitable operation within a year. His sons still run it.
Calvin sent us on our way with a bottle of his homemade wine, made from the grapes across the pond. (We drank it a few weeks later on a special occasion in Missouri, and it was spectacular). One of the things I enjoyed most about this interview was how good it feels to be in the presence of someone so very happy- Calvin just radiated joy. What a beautiful asset at almost 90 years old.


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