I’ve known a lot of men who it seems were born to farm. Daddy and Uncle Murray were two of them. They loved farming in the days of mules, hoes, and cotton sacks. And they loved it when the work got easier with tractors, plows, and mechanical pickers.
Most farmers from my father’s generation are gone or at least retired. The most senior of those who remain is Mr. Finn Cross. He’s 88 years old and still driving tractors, bulldozers, and such. When there’s work to be done, he does it, even on Saturdays in the late afternoon.
Some people know him as W. H. or Harvey. Daddy called him Finn since their childhood years. I asked Mr. Finn a few years ago how he got his nickname. He said it was from Huckleberry Finn. I expect there’s a story behind Mr. Finn’s nickname, a story perhaps for another day.
A lot of good men have left their marks in Third District. Now it’s mostly farmers of my generation and the one or two after that. Mr. Finn is that rare and inspiring exception, that man who keeps working because he loves his work, because he was born to farm.
Mr. Finn and his brother, Mr. Bud, had their farm shop right below my childhood home. They had a few semi-trucks as part of their operation. Sometimes we would hear those trucks riding by late on Saturday night, always heading towards the shop, never away. Daddy said that Mr. Finn told the drivers to make sure they got back home before midnight. He didn’t want them working on any part of Sunday. It was up to them about going to church, but they didn’t miss it because of their work.
Mr. Finn’s life is not just about work. He’s serious about his fishing as well. He and his oldest son William will drop a line in a mudhole if they think there are fish around. It doesn’t get too cold or too hot for those fellows.
It’s funny how little memories often last the longest. Mr. Finn took William and me fishing when we were around seven or eight. I don’t remember where or what we caught, just that we were in a boat.
I was about to put a new hook on and Mr. Finn asked me if I knew how to tie it. I told him I just looped it through and put a couple of knots in it. He offered to show me a better way. He threaded one end of the line through the eye of the hook, wrapped it around itself seven times, pushed the end of it through the loop, then back through another loop at the top. Then he pulled it tightly and cut off the excess line. “If you tie it like that,” said Mr. Finn with a smile, “it’ll stay on when you hang that whopper.”
Many years later I began fishing with my father-in-law, Mr. Bennett Horne. We often used lures, all of them from his tackle box, lures that were a lot more expensive than plain hooks. Mr. Horne handed me a lure and asked if I knew how to tie it on. I told him I did. He wasn’t entirely convinced, so I showed him Mr. Finn’s method. Mr. Horne and Mr. Finn tied the same kind of knot. I took that as a good sign.
From fishing to farming, from family to faith, I don’t know anyone who has done it better or longer than Mr. Finn. He married one of the best cooks in Georgia. It may be Miss Helen’s cream potatoes that help keep him going. I’ve had them with a meal, and I’ve eaten them for dessert. They work fine either way.
I know some good farmers from several generations. But the dean of Third District, and a long way beyond, is Mr. Finn Cross. He’s already left a big mark, one that is still being defined. But he’s also made a lot of little marks, marks that are just as important. Every time I tie a fish hook on a line, I think about the man who showed me a better way. I think about a man who loves his family, lives his faith, and enjoys his time fishing. He’s a man who also finds great satisfaction in his work, a man who no doubt was born to farm.