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Longtime farmer can't imagine another life

POCASSET, Okla. (AP)--James Garrett hasn't missed a harvest in 57 years. Though it may take him longer than it used to, at 90 years old the Pocasset farmer still spends eight-hour days harvesting wheat and tending cattle.

Slowly pulling himself onto the combine using a makeshift stepladder, Garrett may seem frail, but once he gets behind the gears of his John Deere, nearly a century of experience takes over.

"My dad put me out there with a team of mules planting cotton when I was 5 years old,'' he said. "At 7 I had (the) mules with a plow and I was so little that sometimes they would just throw me down.''

Garrett's grandfather lived to be 111 years old; his mother lived to be 98; and Garrett himself will be 91 in October. The oldest of 10 children, Garrett was the first to learn about farming and then to eventually get into the business himself.

A newlywed in 1940, he started out making $9 a week working in town but soon realized that with his knowledge and experience, farming was the most logical venture.

"I knew we couldn't support our daughter on my salary, so I went to the bank and told them exactly what I wanted to do,'' said Garrett, who, along with his wife Agnes, 86, raised two daughters on the farm.

With the seed money the bank invested, Garrett bought cows and farm equipment and in turn paid off the loan with the money from the next year's harvest. "When the banker asked me how much of the loan I wanted to pay him, I said I wanted to pay all of it,'' Garrett said.

"He slapped his hand down on the table and said, 'now James, if you ever need to borrow any more money, you can come to me.' So I did and just kept paying it off every year.''

The Garrett farm stretches as far as you can see just off of Highway 81 in Pocasset, 400 acres to be exact.

The family tradition didn't end with James. Although neither of his daughters took up farming as an occupation, the girls were taught the ropes at early ages, much like James was earlier.

"Dad put me on a tractor for the first time when I was 8 years old,'' Beverly Bortell, the youngest of the two daughters, said. Beverly currently works as a resource manager at Washita Valley Community Action.

"I feel very blessed to still have my mother and dad here,'' she said. "When you're 90 years old and still able to farm, it's quite an accomplishment.''

The family attributes his stamina to clean living. He's never smoked or drank a beer.

"He's always taken care of himself in that way; he's very particular about what he eats because he has a bad stomach,'' his wife said. "His doctor told him once, 'I'm gonna doctor you until you're 100 years old, and then I'm gonna retire.' "

James and Agnes's oldest daughter, Shirley Browning of Amber, works for the city manager's office in Chickasha.

Bortell said their husbands, Derrel Bortell and Jim Browning, help service equipment on the farm. Although James does receive help from family and friends, the main responsibilities of the daily grind are still his own.

Said his wife, "he's told me that if anything ever happens to him while he's out there working, at least he was happy.''

Agnes said they are the oldest living couple in Pocasset and will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in March.

There's no let up for the couple in the future. "This is how I've made my living and supported my family my entire life,'' he said. "It's just getting a little harder now, but I love to work.''

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