Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Remembering John Sillick
You've probably never even heard of John Sillick, but I want to share this anyway. Maybe it will help lift the cloud which has been circling my head since Sunday.
John Sillick used to write a column, The Alps Road Journal, for various of our local newspapers. John was a farmer, naturalist and high school English teacher. He was an amazing writer, also. He wrote about simple things and made them sound like the most important things in life (and well, yes, I believe they are). He wrote about country life and the big farmhouse he and his wife, Kathleen, were fixing-up. And cows and horses and chickens and his students as well as his childhood and fatherhood and what it was like to stand in your own field on a spring evening after you've tilled the land all afternoon.
I used to read John's column most Sundays way back in the years around 1993-1996, even clipped some of his columns and mailed them to friends in Nevada. Then I mostly stopped reading the newspaper at all (long, involved story). Years later, I occasionally read the paper again and occasionally read The Alps Road Journal on Sundays, but John's columns seemed to get more 'technical.' He'd give details about the best tools to use in running a farm and how to grow a healthy pig or how to make a cow come home--things I tried to get into,but couldn't, though I really, really wanted to. I missed the old John and the columns he used to write. Ones with lovely prose like this:
"Some people tell me that I exaggerate the value of work. This may be true. In my view, things are enjoyable if they are earned. Everything is more satisfying if some kind of effort produced it. I don't want to return to the Middle Ages where people were worked to death, but I couldn't survive a life where I couldn't provide for most of my family's needs myself.
"Kathleen religiously returns sweepstakes entries hoping for a jackpot. I have bad dreams about her winning. I fear it would destroy what I love about our life. Unless we gave the money away, what incentive would we have to get up in the morning or pick up the house or fix what's broken? Would I be doomed to a life of playing golf?
"I would rather be in the woods with a homemade trailer and my old tractor cutting firewood with an offspring or two along to help load the wagon and listen to my rambling on about what a wonderful thing we are doing." (From the book, Alps Road Journal by John Sillick)
So on Sunday, while Tom and I read the newspaper together in our cozy little room where we are hibernating this winter, suddenly the cloud came... the cloud which resulted from the article I read in which John's students were dedicating his favorite spot in their school library in his memory.
John passed away in 2003 at the age of 57.
He was thrown from his tractor, one which he often wrote about, and run over by it twice. Days later, he died from complications of the injuries he'd received.
I never even met him, yet through his writing, I felt as though I had. And now he is gone. He died doing one of the things he loved best,driving a tractor over his own land, but still he is gone, and well, it just doesn't seem fair. And it's not. Part of me wants to now hate tractors, but I think John would tell me that's silly. That tractors are ultimately a wonderful and necessary tool for farmers.
Our town's library has a copy of John's one and only book and I braved the snow and cold today and went and got it. It's a compilation of 50 of his newspaper columns and I am loving getting reaquainted with his writing. John even signed this copy--I gasped when I saw his words and signature and I am treating this book carefully, reverently.
I wasn't a writer when I used to read John's columns, but his columns made me want to write and now I fancy that I have a column of my own in this blog. Almost I feel like John and I are part of a brotherhood of writers, though I am in the Wanna Be section and I can almost see him way over in the Experienced, Inspirational Writer corner.
Another reason the cloud persists?
I wish I would have thanked John for the inspiration he gave me while I still had a chance.