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Ryan Dennis

Ryan Dennis is the son of a New York dairy farmer and a literary writer whose early essays were originally published in Progressive Dairyman.

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Back in my mid-20s, I dated a German girl from a rich family. Her father was appalled she was with someone not wealthy. I eventually learned that he often said, in German, I looked like a homeless person. I told that to a friend over the phone, and the line went silent as he thought of a way to be kind.

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What was the first thing the farmer did with his lottery winnings?
Farm until it was gone.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that joke, I could buy a pocketful of lottery tickets myself.

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When I was in seventh grade, I picked up a book laying in the corner of a classroom called A River Runs Through It. The first paragraph was short and about a boy growing up with religion and fly fishing, and how in his family there was little distinction between the two.

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I have no doubt that, like every generation before us, we will judge the next generation to be spoiled or clueless. Nonetheless, whatever does become of them, I hope that the next generation holds us accountable and thinks for themselves.

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It was the usual rite of a rural upbringing, and the time had come for my father and me to take part in it ourselves. When I was 11, he took me to the end of the cornfield, set up a hubcap and had me shoot at it.

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Of all the things a place can be known for – famous bands, art museums, sports teams – the small town of Geel, Belgium, is world-renowned for its mentally impaired residents. In the center of the village stands St. Dymphna’s church, supposedly containing the saint’s remains.

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