Rural Goessel farmer Milton Duerksen, 83, has worked hard all his life and dealt with adversity on many occasions.
But when severe back pain and resulting surgery in August 2012 made it impossible for him to carry on as usual, the cattle and crops farmer thought he might just have to give up his independent way of life.
“I was down and out,” Duerksen said. “I needed help, and that was hard to admit.”
Duerksen, whose wife, Alice, passed away one year ago, did not want to stay in the hospital to recover; he did not feel he was ready for nursing home care, and he just wanted to go home to his farm.
Ironically at the same time that Milton was undergoing back surgery, grandson Travis Duerksen, 23, was looking for a place to live.
The younger Duerksen had graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in April and got a job working as a computer technician at Hesston College.
He was not ready to get his own place, but did not want to stay at home with his parents.
“Someone came up with the idea that I should stay with grandpa and help out while he was recovering,” Travis Duerksen said. “I did, and it worked out for both of us. I am still here and he hasn’t kicked me out yet.”
Travis Duerksen, said living with someone four times his age was an enlightening experience.
“I always knew who grandpa was, but never really talked to him much as a kid growing up,” he said.
“My grandma always baby-sat me, but grandpa was busy working on the combine or feeding cattle.
“Now that we live together, I have really come to appreciate who he is and what he thinks about things. We have some amazing conversations.”
The older Duerksen agreed that the arrangement was working well and this opportunity to get to know his grandson was wonderful.
“Things could not be any better for me than they are now,” Milton Duerksen said.
“Travis is a tremendous cook, he is A-number-1 in computers, and he is the best company.”
Travis said that he was the main cook for the two bachelors, but his grandpa took care of cleaning up and washing dishes.
“I think what I appreciate most about living with grandpa is just the peace and quiet,” Travis said.
“After four years of college and stress, and noise, and worry about deadlines and tests, this is just so nice to come home, fix a pot of tea, and read a book. I really needed this.”
For Milton, having a younger person around the house has inspired him to get a cell phone and learn how to use the computer.
“Travis has taught me computer basics so that I can use his tablet,” Milton said. “I have a Facebook account, can use email, and even play some games.
“If I get stuck, I just wait until Travis comes home and he fixes it. He can fix anything. This is all so very interesting to me. If it wasn’t for Travis, I could not do any of the things I can do now.”
Thanks to help from his grandson, the older Duerksen is able to carry on with farming. Monday he loaded fertilizer and readied equipment for spring field work. Best of all, he said, was having someone fun around to talk with.
Both the older and younger Duerksen men said they knew this living arrangement would not last forever, but for now, it was a good solution for both.
“He is not my son. He has his own schedule and comes and goes as he wants,” Milton said.
“I know this won’t last forever, but for now I just absolutely love having him around.”