He fits the stereotype of the traditional farmer in the mid-west. He has on a pair of clean but well worn bib overalls, a Pioneer Seed ball cap, and cotton shirt. He’s rotund but also fairly tall. He has a smile that stretches across his face easily and he walks with a slow determination. I caught him in town near the bank earlier, but he politely suggested that I meet him in the field an hour later for this interview. I stand near the large tractor with the corn planter attached. He opens sacks of seed as his helpers lift them toward the planter and dumps them in the bins. When he finishes, he turns to talk to me. As he opens up his coffee thermos to pour himself a cup he says, “So you want to talk math do you?” I laugh and say, “Well yes, among other things.” We begin our interview.
“What about you as a young man? Did you like math?” I ask. “Yes, I suppose I did. We had this old teacher, Mr. Plum. He drilled us daily on the multiplication tables, division, addition, and subtraction. He made a game out of the whole deal. We sort of did a ‘last man standing’ sort of thing.” I raise my head to look up from my notes and I suppose I show a curious look. He picks up on the look and explains, “You know…like the one to get them all right along the way is the very last man standing. Sometimes it was a girl but usually one of the boys would win. Anyway, he made math a game.”
“Do you think math is important for the education of the youth today?” I continue. “Absolutely, I do. I can’t farm without math and science. You can’t get ahead in life without being able to do math.” One of the helpers dumping corn into the planter bin jumps in with, “And old Fields here can’t count all his money without that math either!” Everyone laughs including Farmer Fields. The men around him seem to like this man and I decide that I really like him too. After the laughter subsides I continue with my questions.
“So, how has math helped you in your life?” I ask. “Well, math made for a good marriage. I think math and marriage go together.” Now I am curious so I probe, “How’s that? I mean how does math affect a marriage?” He stops and looks at me with that big grin and says, “One plus one equals a good marriage. One partner has to depend on the other partner. One person in the marriage must always include the other person. I do the science and my wife does the math. She has her contributions to make to our marriage and I make mine. Both of us make up a great marriage that’s lasted 35 years.”
“I guess I never thought about that,” I say. “How do you mean you do the science and she does the math?” “Well,” he says, “I think math and science go together, you know, like this tractor and planter. In our case, my wife does the entire math. She figures the money, does the investing, runs the budget, and so forth. I figure out the chemicals and fertilizers, how much per acre, weights and measures, and so forth. Together I guess we have a pretty good deal going. She’s math…I’m science. One plus one. Simple as that.”
The bins are full of corn, the planter has all the adjustments, and the tractor stands ready to roll. I know that my interview time is over. I thank him for the time and the interview and I move back toward my vehicle I left near the roadside where we met. I think that people who make a living from the land seem to have some very practical and common sense philosophies in life. I decide that many people need to have this kind of approach to their lives and marriages. It is simple arithmetic. One plus one equals a good marriage, a successful farm, a happy family, and who knows what else. Math makes a good marriage.