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When the ramps give way

Holly Spangler Emerson Tarr, Jenna Spangler and Anna Webel
RESOLVE: This column may need to come with a warning: careful if you’re squeamish. But it’s also a story of friendship, faithfulness and steely resolve from this kid in the middle, Jenna Spangler, with her friends Emerson Tarr and Anna Webel.
What’s a good community really worth? We found out in a big way this summer.

They were loading the trailer.

Just like we’d done a hundred times before. We had a couple-hour break between showmanship and the awards banquet to tear down stalls and load out everything but cattle, feed and fans.

Our junior national week in Brookings, S.D., was about over, and Jenna had just said to her dad, “I think this has been my best junior national ever.” By the metrics of that moment, it was: showmanship semifinalist, time with friends, good contests, respectable showing by her heifer.

Back at the trailer, they’d set the ramps at the side door. Her dad pulled the 5-foot-tall show box up the ramps and Jenna pushed, with all of her 17-year-old might. Just as the show box hit the trailer floor, the ramps fell out from under her. Her face smashed into the show box and then down onto the side of the trailer. The impact knocked two of her front teeth completely out. There was blood everywhere. She was in unbelievable, devastating pain.

We found one tooth immediately. Couldn’t find the other. I got through to our orthodontist at home and she gave us directions: Wash the tooth in her own saliva and if she can get it all the way back and if she can stand the pain, push it back into place. Right away.

She did it.

Meanwhile, our friends were still looking for the other tooth, in the dirt and gravel where it happened. We’d looked in the trailer already, but her 15-year-old brother, Nathan, was determined to find this tooth. We went back to the trailer one last time and sure enough — he found it.

Just like the first one, she cleaned this tooth, took a deep breath and pushed it back into place, past nerves and swelling tissue.

However horrific and painful you think this might be, take it times 10.

What next?

Friends directed us to the Brookings Dental Clinic. It was the perfect place to have landed. Dr. Erin told Jenna she did an incredible job getting her teeth in straight and suggested she become an orthodontist. “Hard pass,” Jenna told her.

They did X-rays, ruled out a broken jaw, said the top bone could be broken, stabilized her teeth with a wire and glue — makeshift braces on the fly — and got her some high-powered pain meds. They laid out scenarios and told her she’d done everything right to secure the best possible outcome for her teeth.

Thanks to the pain meds, she even felt good enough to catch the end of the awards banquet and got to pick up her prize for placing in sales talk. But the best medicine was being with all her friends and the families that have become like family. It did her heart good.

Frankly, I think it did everyone good. Because in agriculture, we live our lives in community. Cows get out? Neighbors help. Someone can’t harvest? Neighbors show up with combines. A derecho wipes out crops and storage and buildings for miles? Neighbors clean it up.

And when a young person gets hurt and a family is thrown into real turmoil, everybody jumps in. That night, our friends showed up big time. They looked through bloody dirt for a tooth, they called local friends for a dentist, they helped our other kids tie out and gave them the biggest hugs, they helped tear down our stalls, they helped get the kids dressed and to the banquet, they made sure the kids had a place to sit, they prayed for us, and they offered to do absolutely anything they could to help.

And don’t let anyone fool you: Those show dads are big softies. We smile every time we think of all the dads who gave Jenna big hugs at the banquet, stopped by our camper, and called and texted to check on her the next day.

Here’s what I know: We’re made to live in this kind of community. The Sunday after this all went down, our pastor preached on Paul and his friends, and shared Jenna’s story and how our friends came around us. God brings people into our lives with purpose and on purpose and for a purpose.

We see it over and over in agriculture, in good times and bad. And on the worst days, when the ramps give way, it’s the people who carry us through.

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