Charles and Twilla Siebert are facing one of life's most difficult passages. Twilla has been fighting small cell lung cancer for several months. Recently, they got the sad news that treatment options have been exhausted.
Word spread quickly through their tight-knit western Kansas farm community and neighbors got together to do what neighbors do in times like these.
At about noon on Saturday, June 25, the friends and neighbors of Charles and Twilla gathered at the intersection of two gravel roads east of Garden City, where the Sieberts' acres of ripe, golden wheat lay in wide open fields on either side of the road.
They brought 10 combines, 8 grain carts and 16 semis and hit the Sieberts' fields in tandem. A half a mile away, two more combines, a grain cart and two semis went to work in smaller fields close to the Siebert farm. By 4 p.m., they had turned amber waves of grain into wheat in the silos at three Garden City Coop locations -- easily beating the rain that arrived about an hour after the last truck was unloaded.
"This is something we can do," said neighbor Tom Klassen, who organized the harvest effort. "When you have someone facing a really hard time in life, it's impossible to know what to say. But this is what we can do; we can bring in his harvest and give him time. When you don't know what to say, you look for something to do."
Siebert showed up about midway of the harvest effort, overwhelmed at what his friends and neighbors were doing to help give him the ability to spend as much time as possible with his wife.
Charles said he has been amazed and humbled by what the community has been willing to do for his family throughout the ordeal of his wife's illness. His daughter, Amy, is a teacher in the Deerfield school system and her coworkers helped raised more than $1,300 so he and Twilla could travel to Bethesda, Md. to participate in an experimental program that had shown promise in treating small cell lung cancer.
"There just aren't words to express how grateful to all of these neighbors," Siebert said. "This is just amazing. It means so much to me. It lets you know that you are not alone."
The day before the big harvest event, another neighbor planted Siebert's milo crop.
"We had a shower of rain and the wheat was a little too wet, but we could get into the milo field, so we just knocked it out," he said.
Most of the helpers, who numbered more than 30 combine, grain cart and truck drivers, refused to be identified.
"We want to do what we can to help. We are all family out here. We do what we can to help each other. When you show up to help, you are just doing what is right. And you know that if you need help people will be there for you," a neighbor said. "This isn't about us getting credit for something. It's about doing what is right."
Caroline Duvall and Vivian Bulkley work for the Garden City Co-op. They brought bottled water and Gatorade, cookies and snacks for the crews that were working in near-100 degree heat to bring in the wheat.
Klassen said when word got out that he was organizing a harvest effort, he didn't have to call anyone.
"All of these guys called me wanting to help," he said. "It turned into just organizing. Charles said he would pay for fuel and we told him, 'that's not going to happen.' Charles is very self-sufficient and accepting help is hard for him."
Klassen said he knows how that feels. Just a year ago, he lost his wife of 50 years to a brain aneurysm.
"She had retired from her job teaching at the college after 29 years. I was going to farm two more years and then we were going to travel and see all the places we'd read about," he said. "That was not meant to be and now I guess I'll just keep farming."
His own experience, he says, helps him know what it feels like to lose your dreams for the future. He doesn't know how to put that understanding of grief into the right words to support his friend. But he sure does know how to cut wheat.
And when you don't know what to say, you just do what you know how to do.