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STANDING IN THE WAY

For me, as a youngster, the trip to visit relatives on their farm in the Virginia foothills was always exciting. I always thought that my four cousins were so lucky to live in such a special place, where there was never a shortage of exciting things to do. They raised cows and watered them from a claw foot bathtub. Every year they brought cows to the State Fair in Richmond, trying to win 4-H ribbons. I always thought that the Jersey milk cows were the prettiest and on each visit we brought home gallon jars of fresh milk with real cream on top.

My cousins had tractors, dirt bike trails and their own swimming h*** in Byrd Creek, with a rope swing. They also hand cranked some of the best homemade ice cream I ever tasted.

I remember on one trip, as our 54 Ford came down the paved road to Byrd Creek, we saw two somethings fly over the paved road. We first thought that two deer had jumped the road, until my Father said “there goes Ducky and Donnie.” The foothills made a great launching ramp for dirt bikes and the elevated state road was just another something to jump over. Those boys sure could ride motorcycles.

I think my favorite story from the foothills involves communications and good luck. This is how I recall the story that happened sometime during the 1960s.

In school one day, my cousin Donnie casually mentioned to his friend Frankie that if the school was closed the next day, due to the predicted snow fall, the Cersley’s would be cutting firewood. The snow did come and the school did close and Cousins Donnie and younger brother Henry walked out through the snow to cut wood.

Donnie selected a tree and put the old chain saw to work. As the tree started to fall, it kicked back on the stump and struck Henry. He was knocked out and was bleeding badly from his head. Donnie propped Henry’s head up on the stump, packed his head with snow and took off running to the house to summon help.

Help in the country in those days was an ambulance station wagon that was operated by the local funeral director. The funeral director decided which vehicle he needed to drive, based upon the information that he received.

Donnie, in a panic, dialed the seven digit number from the sticker on the old rotary phone and when the funeral director answered the phone, Donnie said “Hurry, Hurry, Henry got hit by a tree” and hung up. He gave no last name, no address and no other information.

As good luck would have it, the funeral director’s son Frankie, Donnie’s school friend, happened to be with his Father when the call came in. His Father said “that was a strange call, someone said Hurry, Hurry Henry got hit by a tree and hung up.” Frankie remembered his school conversation from the day before and he told his Father that Donnie Cersley had a younger brother named Henry, and that Donnie had told him that if it snowed they were going to be cutting wood. With that limited information, the ambulance headed out in the snow and hoped to find good luck.

After calling for help, Donnie jumped into the old Plymouth farm car, with suicide doors, and raced down the farm road, through the snow, to his badly injured brother. When he reached the site, Donnie loaded Henry into the back seat, and while turning the car around, he backed onto a stump. He tried to go forward and then backwards with no luck, the right rear wheel was off the ground. Donnie put the car in first gear, released the clutch, got out and climbed on the rear bumper and jumped up and down. The rear wheel finally got traction; the car came off of the stump and now the last thing that Donnie had to do was to run and catch up to the driverless car with Brother Henry inside.

The ambulance was waiting when the old Plymouth arrived back at the farmhouse and Henry was moved again. The ambulance raced to the local Doctor, who came out to the car and after taking a quick look, told them to keep moving and to take Henry to the hospital in Charlottesville. The old ambulance made really good time to the hospital and the doctors fixed Henry up as good as new.

What are the life lessons, communications lessons and leadership lessons that you learned as you came up on your farm? Here are a few of mine.

You show respect to each cow that is under your care, by giving each one an individual, proper name and you use that name every day when you talk to them. They like that. The cow will distinguish herself best when she receives consistent quality care, good food and fresh water, and a daily routine that is clear and understood. You always approach the cow from the front since upfront, face to face will provide for a mutual understanding and avoids unpleasant surprises. A misguided approach and a barnyard arrogance usually results in the cow showing you, in her own special way, what she thinks of your shirt and so called transparency. “Teat for tat?”

If the cow can see the bucket, and if you provide comfort to her by resting your head on her side while it is being filled, the sweetness of the yield is guaranteed. If you enjoy fresh milk, creamy butter and ice cream you must understand your commitment to the process. If your commitment is lacking and your treatment lacks compassion, then so will be your enjoyment; cows ain’t dumb.

If you are or you wish to be a leader, there are several lessons from the farm to share. Pay attention to the paths in the pasture. They won’t always be perfectly straight, but they are where the cows like to walk. If you nourish with feed, mineral blocks and water along these established paths you will spend less time looking for the cows, getting their stuff on your boots, trying to figure them out and chasing them. Encourage them, make adjustments as needed, and catch em doing something good and they will come running to you when their name is called. Cows don’t like barbed wire and they enjoy a little room to roam. Didn’t you?

Leaders teach others how to jump over obstacles. It’s like the old State Road in Fluvanna County. They see that the new jumper wears their gear, brings their instincts, their past learning experiences, their emulations and they don’t allow them to underestimate the profound impact of the leadership jump. They make sure that the student assumes a position on the leadership seat that is balanced and that there is an understanding of the obstacle that is faced.

Take a firm grip, both feet grounded on the pedals, put on the full size leadership pants and go for it.

If you are the leadership student, you have been trained and the coach stands behind you, but you have to jump. The water in Byrd Creek is cold, but it surely refreshes you once you jump in. The first jump may not be a perfect takeoff or a perfect landing, neither was the first jump of your leader, but now that you have done it, you can make the necessary adjustments, until your further developed instincts and your learned feel, leave you wondering why you ever thought that the jump was that difficult in the first place.

Just as there is a hierarchy of needs there is a hierarchy of deeds. Respect that and take only the place that you have earned. Everyone starts at the back of the line. The smart ones always look forward and they pay attention to what goes on out front, they understand merit, they respect respect and they are rewarded one day by being given their place in the feed lot or additional room to drink at the water tub.

Leaders and Farmers know better than to stand on a soft manure pile and try to lure followers or cows up to them with sugar cubes. They will stand before you, they will act like they hear you, but they will never come to you. Cows stay away from b******* and bullies and they like to stand on solid ground, leaders should too.

Communications should not be canned or rehearsed. Always give the necessary information and then be a listener. It’s going to snow on you someday and it is not how much you talked that will matter, it is what you talked about that was worth someone else hearing. You as a leader can either spend your time swatting flies and chasing runaways that break out of the fence or come off of the stump, or sitting by the warm fire, watching it snow, while eating fresh churned ice cream, with strawberry bits, it’s your choice.

Old Farmers and Leaders have earned their ribbons – they come to the show to watch you earn yours.

Are you your Brother’s keeper?

Have you ever taken a trip to the farm and what lessons did you bring home along with the fresh milk?

Did the common sense of the cows stay with you – or just the smell?

How is your Good Luck going these days?

Start out in low gear. It takes less time to catch up when it jumps the stump.

Are you selecting good trees and standing on good footing or just standing in the way?

Leadership and farming require communications, caring, leadership and work.

Talk to the cows.

Do visitors stop by your farm once and never return?

Hurry, Hurry.

Thanks for reading, caring and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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Comment by Mark J. Cotter on May 8, 2016 at 9:36pm

Thanks for offering advice that's both useful and pleasant to take!

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