My friend Mike Alberternst walked into the middle school gym in our hometown and sat down on the third row of bleachers next to his wife, Michele, and me. Those around us began to notice a certain aroma. Michele apologized for his scent.
I leaned in to Mike and said, "Whew, I am glad it is you. I thought they were noticing the barn smell on my clothes."
It is lambing season, and before leaving for any game, there is one quick trip to the barn. This time, it took a little longer, and I forgot to change out of my barn chore coat. So my "good" coat — you know the "going to town" coat — went to the barn. If we are all honest, a certain odor transfers from the barn to your coat, jeans, hair and often shoes. This time was no different. However, if I was going to make it to the basketball game on time, I had to leave without swapping out coats.
I entered the gymnasium feeling a little apprehensive. I went to watch Mike and Michele's daughter play. Now, the Alberternst family is no stranger to agriculture, our home or our barn. They have been to our place many times and seen me not at my "best." They understand my odor. But I admit to being a little concerned about those around us who did not know me. Was I showing them the best side of agriculture? Would they think all agriculture producers smell all the time? All I could think was — thank goodness for Mike.
Mike is an airplane mechanic. His job is not easy. It is labor-intensive and detail-oriented. He spends long hours in a hangar working to ensure those airplanes — and more importantly, their passengers — are safe. But his work comes with an odor — often of jet fuel. So it was his smell that caught the attention of basketball fans sitting nearby, not mine.
As I drove home, I thought, "Actually, that is what hard work smells like."
Think about it; whether it is jet fuel, manure odor, food grease or just sweat, hard work often comes with an odor. It is something American farmers, ranchers and workers should be proud of, not try to mask. It is definitely not something we should feel the need to apologize for.
Mike came straight from his work to make sure he was on time to his daughter's basketball game. His concern was for being a parent who was present in his child's life. He was showing her that what she does matters. Ultimately, supporting her passions and encouraging her progress. Mike was there — jet fuel and all — for his daughter.
Farmers, ranchers and Americans who work in an industry that perhaps just plain stinks, take a cue from Mike. It doesn’t matter what you smell like when you are supporting a child, spouse or even a family friend's daughter. Don't change your clothes. Just show up. Perhaps then, others will realize what hard work truly smells like.