Personal Essay

Even in a fancy suit, I'm still a Saskatchewan farm boy

Todd Romanow is a power tie-wearing consultant — but beneath the business deals and first class flights, he longs for simpler times on a Saskatchewan farm.
Todd Romanow, centre, poses with his dad and brother Kelly on Kelly's wedding day in 1993. Todd still remembers his youth on the farm in incredible detail. (Romanow family album)

Climbing on the way to 35,000 feet, I lean forward in my first-class airplane seat and look down between the clouds at farms that look like toys.

In a black suit with a loosened red power tie, I look like any of the other business travellers — but I am also different. The sight of those little farms takes me back to fond memories.

I close my eyes and think about the old farm in Montmartre, Saskatchewan.

Something everyone should feel

Todd's brother Kelly "fixing" an old Massey Tractor. Todd says the kids were free from rules, but not unruly. (Romanow family album)

In my mind's eye I see grandma at the wood stove frying pork chops in a black cast frying pan. I see fresh picked wild crocus in a small glass taking in sun through a cracked four-by-six-inch windowpane.  

The home-place, as we called it, didn't have running water, it didn't have indoor plumbing and the phone was for you if, and only if, it rang two longs.

I can still hear the wind whipping the screen door; I can hear the screech of the pump bringing water up from a 45-gallon drum in the musty basement that I was too afraid to go down into.

I remember the smell of fresh earth in the spring; nitrogen filled the air moments before a thunderstorm and the refreshing scent of rain instantly turned the grey dust black.

The largest building on the farm site was the barn 100 yards west of the house. We would explore and swing from the rope hanging from the rafters in the hayloft. (A summer storm tore it apart and spread it across over 20 acres more than 40 years ago, but I still expect to see it when I turn south off highway 48.)

By today's standards it wasn't much, but I can't remember anyone frowning or complaining or wishing to be somewhere else.

The home-place, as we called it, didn't have running water, it didn't have indoor plumbing and the phone was for you if, and only if, it rang two longs.

The old farm was also full of wonderful sounds: frogs at night, coyotes singing to the morning, geese honking in formation and startled pintails whistling by and splash-landing in the dugout.

I remember how wheat felt as it ran through my hands and how it smelled of earth and nature. There is a feeling of accomplishment knowing that harvest is not only income but it is nourishment for people you will never see and never know. You learn in church that bread is a symbol of the body of Christ. Farmers not only know that but also feel it in their soul.  

Farming was about the crops. It was about the weeds that threaten the crops. It was about hail storms and it was about weeks of rain that came after the swather made miles of winding rows of wheat.  

When the weather was right and the crop was thick and the fall was hot and windy — it was amazing.

The joy, the pride and the sense of accomplishment of filling each and every bin is something that everyone should feel.

The best kind of stress

Todd compares harvest to the last day of a perfect vacation, adding: "it was like saying goodnight after a teenaged date. There is a beauty that maybe only farmers can truly appreciate.” (Helen Waller)

Harvest and stress went hand in hand, and yet it was a stress you could hardly wait for. Although it was hard work, it was also the best time of year.

Nearly every year Dad would say he was sad that harvest was over and as odd as it was to hear, you could see and feel it.

I remember the magnificent beauty of harvest. The symmetry of rowed fields, wheat that flowed in the wind like waves on the ocean, orange and red sunsets piercing clouds of grain dust, star-filled night skies and the northern lights.   

I think about the farm equipment. By today's standards it wasn't very sophisticated, but in 1971 a Case 930 and a 15-foot disc is all you needed to seed 160 acres of red spring wheat. That same hand-clutch tractor was what pulled the combine in the fall.  

Somehow dad was able to fill the bins and get the crop to the elevator. It was easier for me than it was for my dad and it was easier for dad than it was for grandpa. Imagine what it was like for our great grandparents in January, 1906.

Eventually I learned to drive a truck — with one arm on the wheel and one elbow uncomfortably out the window, and a neck straining stretch to see over the steering wheel.

My back was nowhere near the back of the seat and yet I would wind through a swathed field being ever vigilant not to drive over the swaths.

I remember the magnificent beauty of harvest. The symmetry of rowed fields, wheat that flowed in the wind like waves on the ocean, orange and red sunsets piercing clouds of grain dust, star-filled night skies and the northern lights.

At the ripe age of 10, my first full day in the field was spent driving my uncle's G1000 Minneapolis Moline tractor that pulled a 24-foot Graham cultivator. Later that year, Dad kept watch from our orange Ford half-ton as I tilled the stubble with our 145 Versatile pulling what was then a massive 38-foot-deep tillage cultivator.

Dad purchased a second 145 that he referred to as "Todd's Tractor." When you are 11 years old, having your own tractor is a big deal.

Family members pose in front of a 145 Versatile and 930 Case, circa 1974. Todd remembers knocking over fences while learning to drive, but says his father was still proud of him. (Romanow family album)

It was high tech. It had a radio with headphones and I could make out most of the Casey Kasem's weekly top 40. It didn't have air conditioning but it did have an air cooler. The cab was bearable in July.  

When you hit a bump, however, you were soaked with warm muddy water. While I didn't admit it then, it was all I could handle.  

To stop I had to jump off the seat and use an under-handed grip of the steering wheel to depress the clutch.  

I knocked over some fences. I bent a number of shanks on rocks I should have avoided. And my attempts to inch in on muddy low spots ended with a long walk to seek help pulling the tractor out. Still, I know my dad was proud.

Still my father's son

Todd Romanow grew up without internet and video games on a farm in Montmartre, Saskatchewan. "How was it then that we always had endless things to do?" (Romanow family album)

Memories are not just pictures in your mind; they are smells, sounds, tactile feelings and emotions. It is amazing how memories stick with you and impact how you feel, even decades later.

If you are a farm kid anywhere in the world and summer turns to fall, close your eyes and you can not only feel harvest but you can actually smell it.   

I miss the simplicity of those days but most of all I miss my Dad. I wish I could have told him how proud I was to be his son and fortunate I was to work alongside him, growing up on the old farm.

If you are a farm kid anywhere in the world and summer turns to fall, close your eyes and you can not only feel harvest but you can actually smell it.

Back at 35,000 feet in the air, I am startled awake by the "fasten your seatbelt" chime. The flight attendant asks me to raise my seat.

It's dark now, there are no farms. Rather, there are endless miles of lights and highways and cities that blend into other cities.

I am no longer a farmer. I'm a healthcare consultant.

I am happy and successful doing what I do — but, deep down, I am still a farm boy with grease on my shirt and dust in my hair.

Todd Romanow, now a dad and husband himself, poses with his family. L to R: Thomas, Todd, Katharine and Nicholas Romanow. (Romanow family album)

About the Author

Todd Romanow

Todd Romanow is a certified project management professional who works for a U.S. healthcare consulting firm. He's been married to his wife, Katharine, for 29 years. They live in Texas with their two sons, Nicholas and Thomas.

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