Growing up on a farm, precedents for health protocol can remain somewhat rudimentary. My grandpa—an eighty-one-year-old fruit grower who still works seventy-hour weeks—tenaciously upholds a series of remedies from the Teddy Roosevelt era, held together by perseverance, placebo, and poor karma. Plagued by asthma? Run it off. A case of athlete’s foot? Soak them in some Captan fungicide. Mosquitos love your sweet blood? Give him more shifts on the spray-rig; nothing keeps bugs away like toxic lifeblood.

I’ve always prided myself on my “natural” health—i.e. getting by without the aid of pills, caffeine, bandages, or any other crutch that perpetuates dependency. I don’t drink coffee, I’ve taken ibuprofen exactly six times, and I believe that a healthy dose of germs is good for your immune system.

This comes largely from the way I’ve been raised. The most admired, albeit unspoken, trait a farmer can demonstrate is simply showing up to work every day. When adversity hits, we voice deceptively positive remarks to help combat the harsh reality: “Boy, there sure is a healthy crop of ivy growing around these trunks!” “Well boys, now you can say you’ve worked a week straight in triple-digit heat. Isn’t that something?” There’s probably a deeper, psychological rationale to making light of serious adversity, but for now we’ll just focus on Tenacity.

To a disassociated audience, I can admit that this sucks sometimes. I’ve shivered in rain-soaked sweatshirts, sprained muscles that took months to heal, and had ivy outbreaks that would make the Elephant Man look handsome because of this precedent.

But I’ve never taken a sick day.

To get a clearer picture of this precedent, I’ll tell you one story: my grandpa was once hit in the face by an apple crate that fell off a forklift. Blood oozed out of his forehead, nose, and cheeks in profuse rivulets. Of course we were all alarmed—he was approaching his seventy-eighth birthday, after all—but he waved us off with a joke and told us we were all getting soft. He wiped his face on a grease rag, and we all kept working.

At least on our farm, Tenacity is the highest virtue, but this certainly comes with a caveat: Tenacity is only as strong as its host. Thankfully I have been blessed with the Versluis genes’ stocky, athletic physique, and so tasks that require a strong measure of manhandling come easy for me. However, any sort of biological weakness will garner disdainful disappointment. Not that it’s your fault for having sensitive skin or a peanut allergy; it’s simply unfortunate.

My unfortunate curse is seasonal allergies. They’re my branded kryptonite; everyone on the farm knows it. I still remember a time years ago when we had just finished hauling our third trailer-load of hay into the barn’s musty basement. I was at the end of our baling brigade, stacking hay into the dank corners of the cellar. After about my twenty-seventh consecutive sneeze, my grandpa finally told me sternly to go home. Of course he was doing me a favor, but the sense of failure lingered much longer than my hive-ridden forearms.

So for years I’ve suffered through it because I didn’t want to flunk out of this elite club of workers with an above-average tolerance for hard labor. I was holding out for that rarely effective solution that if I ignored the problem long enough, it would finally go away. That some hard-working white blood cells sweating long hours in the lab would finally shout, “Eureka!” and start running around my arteries in a state of euphoria, distributing the key to hayseed relief throughout my sinuses.

Well, my girlfriend got sick of waiting for that moment. After much prodding, I made the appointment with Grand Rapids Allergy, had my back pricked, and learned with dismay that I was allergic to…well, everything.

It just sounded so pathetic. A lifelong farmer, allergic to his own grass. Who can’t bale his own hay, brush-hog his own orchards, or even grub weeds without collapsing into a fit of hacking.

Thankfully, after one short visit I realized how outdated and immature my approach to handling adversity was. I would never discredit Tenacity’s virtue, but once I discovered how simple it was to be cured forever, I felt like a fool for not biting the bullet sooner. Sure, it’s kind of a hassle—shots once a week for four months—but when all is said and done, allergies effectively become nothing more than an unpleasant memory. What’s the shame in that? Forget sticking to the physical limit of human Tenacity; why not celebrate the medical advances that human ingenuity has developed? Give Tenacity a break. Work as hard as you can, but don’t be afraid to accept help. That’s my new motto.

1 Comment

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    Just discovered this post—love reading about your farm upbringing. I can relate deeply to the almost idolatrous worship of tenacity. After college, it pushed me to work so hard that I actually ended up in the hospital to recover. Even in that, I find myself proud. Wouldn’t trade those lessons of pushing on and pushing through for anything.

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