Have you ever seen thistles in bloom? They are lovely lavender blossoms on long slender stalks, with silver-tipped prickles on the leaves and stems. They used to be one of my favorite flowers until I lived on a farm and learned that if the blooms go to seed, one plant can eventually take over an entire pasture. The summer my son, Matt, was almost three years old, he and I spent a few long, hot days clearing our fields of thistles with his grandpa Terry Chapman. Terry and Mary had recently moved from Weatherford, Oklahoma, to our farm in Tennessee to help us manage the growing demands of work and family. In addition to the upkeep of the farm, they were thrilled to be so close to Matt and his little sister, Millie.
There are several ways to deal with thistles. One is to cut them down and burn them before they go to seed, but in essence, you've simply pruned the stalk, encouraging a bigger root. You can bush-hog a field, making it good immediately, but the seedpods dry on the ground, the wind comes up, and then you've only dispersed your problem across a broader area. The only true remedy is to put on work gloves and pull them out by the root…or hire someone else for the grueling job. For whatever reason, this particular year, the thistles really bugged me, and I decided to take care of it myself, or at least start the job, with my father-in-law.
Terry had spent the majority of his life as an Assembly of God preacher. Somewhere in the process he mellowed into a gentle storyteller and conversationalist who intentionally or unintentionally taught lessons about life and faith in the context of everyday living. Pulling thistles is hard work. You dig and pull and pry and try to avoid the longest prickles, but the nature of the job makes for good conversation. You can't be in a hurry. It's going to take the hours it's going to take.
As the hours passed, Terry and I watched our pile of thistles grow in the back of the old orange and white farm truck while Matt crawled around in the dirt. We marveled at the singular carrotlike root that could support such a tall stalk. We sweated and laughed and talked for hours on end. And we made progress. Eventually we cleared the front pasture, just east of the house.