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"Although I’d grown up on the farm, and farming was all I’d really ever known, I hadn’t been involved in the business end of it," says Ashland, Miss., farmer Steve Skelton. "I was the seed man, the planter man, the chemicals man, and my father took care of the financial end of things. When he was incapacitated in an accident, all of a sudden I was faced with doing it all. I was thrown into a position with the farm for which I’d had no preparation.”
WHEN HIS FATHER was suddenly incapacitated by an accident, Steve Skelton was faced with the responsibility of assuming operation of the family farm.
In the blink of an eye, Steve Skelton’s role in his family’s farming operation was changed, and he suddenly found himself confronted with responsibilities and challenges for which he had no previous experience, but which were critical to the farm’s future.
Even now, going on five years later, the sadness and loss are reflected in his eyes and his voice as he tells the story.
“It was 2008, my father, Charlie Skelton, and I had just finished gathering our crops, and some of our cows got out. We went to the pasture to round them up, and while we were there Daddy said we might as well do some fence repair. We were clearing trees with chain saws and one fell and hit him on the head.
“He was in the hospital in a coma for a while, and when he came home he had no use of his body. He couldn’t carry on a meaningful conversation. My mother, Rose, my sister, Cindy Wilson, and I were his caregivers for two years until he died.”
As bad and as heartbreaking as that was, Steve says, “I was thrown into a position with the farm for which I’d had no preparation. Although I’d grown up on the farm, and farming was all I’d really ever known, I hadn’t been involved in the business end of it. I was the seed man, the planter man, the chemicals man — and that suited me fine. Daddy took care of the financial end of things. Now, all of a sudden, I was faced with doing it all.”
Attempts to discuss farm business with his father were fruitless, Steve says. “He just wasn’t able to communicate.”
Some time later, out of the blue, his father saw his dog wandering by and said, “Why, there’s old Doc.” It was his first recognition of anything since the accident.
“One Sunday morning after that, I helped him into the pickup to go for a ride around the farm. I had an Alan Jackson CD playing, ‘I Want to Stroll Over Heaven With You.’ Daddy started crying, then began talking to Sam, one of his farmhands who was riding with us. He began telling Sam about our cows, when he’d bought them, stories about them. It was as if his memory was coming back.
“His mind got good enough that he was able to go to the bank and get paperwork done for me to take over the farm. When corn planting time came in 2009 — my first time to run the farm all by myself — he’d talk to me every day, ask how things were going.
“Then, just as suddenly as his mind had returned, it was gone again. He never recovered, and he died in 2010. But that short time we had together helped me to find the strength and determination to move forward and do what needed to be done to keep the farm going.