December 2018
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: A Different Kind of Christmas

4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent David Perry answers a higher call for the holidays.

 

The Perry family live on a small farm in Pennington, AL. David serves as the 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent for Choctaw and Sumter counties. Left to right, Elizabeth, J.D. , Tanner, Cecil and David Perry.

Christmas 2017 was very different for David Perry and his family. Perry, his wife, Elizabeth, and their three sons, Cecil (13), J.D. (11) and Tanner (7) celebrated Christmas in November last year.
"We had Christmas on Thanksgiving Day, so we could all be together," Elizabeth Perry explained. You see, David Perry is with the Army Reserve’s 75th Combat Support Hospital, and December 2, 2017, his unit deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom. Knowing he would be away from home for an extended period, David Perry worked hard to make this Christmas celebration memorable for his family.

The thoughts of Perry’s leaving weighed heavily on everyone, especially as the family opened their gifts from David. First, Perry presented his farm knife to Cecil, his oldest son, to carry every day while he was gone. The knife would remind Cecil of the many things his father did each day on the farm. Perry also had a prized Leatherman tool he carried everywhere with him. Before his middle son, J.D., was born, David had gotten "JDP" engraved on the side. He presented this to J.D. that day. For Tanner, David recorded a story book, called "Under the Same Moon." He also gave Tanner a teddy bear that could receive messages from David while he was away.
Finally, David gave each boy his own personal dog tag. On one side was the name of each child and on the other were the words, "Son of David Perry." Each tag came with a personal letter, filled with very special words for each son.

David Perry’s sons are surprised by his early return home.

 


"This Christmas was different," Elizabeth stated softly, "because we knew David would leave in just a few days. Even as we opened our gifts, it was a hard day for all of us. It was a good day, but a sad one, too." David Perry left five days later.
Rarely does anyone truly understand the sacrifices that families of veterans make when their loved ones are away. David’s absence meant that Elizabeth and her sons had to fill his role. Nevertheless, it was on their farm that the David Perry family showed the depths of their love and appreciation for the man who was sacrificing so much for so many. The Perry family’s farm lies in Pennington, Ala., in Choctaw County. After David left, Elizabeth and her boys took charge of the day-to-day operations of the Perry Cattle Farm (P.C. Farm & Son).

Elizabeth Perry is a fifth-generation farmer. She and David always dreamed of owning a cattle farm and farming the same land that David’s Pap Paw had so dearly loved.

"David is a true conservationist," explained Elizabeth. "He loves this land and wants to maintain it properly." Continuing David’s dream became a mission for Elizabeth and her sons.
Before he left, David had made sure his boys could do the everyday chores that keep a farm going. He taught Cecil how to drive the tractor and put out hay for the animals. He had made sure both Cecil and J.D. knew how to check fence lines, hook up trailers and do many other daily chores. Even though he was younger, Tanner helped in other ways, feeding and caring for their pets. Along the way, he also learned to do many other chores.
Life on a farm is never predictable. The Perrys run 30 SimAngus cows, which had to be fed and cared for daily. When calving season rolled around, the family handled it like pros.
"We had to pull two calves, and we only lost two this year," Elizabeth explained, "but I was thankful."
At weaning time, the farm needed a new bull to service their cows for the next calving season. Elizabeth and the boys sold their brood bull and purchased another one. With the help of her brother, Elizabeth Perry artificially inseminated half the herd. Animals got sick and equipment broke, but whatever needed to be done, this family did, knowing it was all for a man they loved dearly.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, had even more responsibility. "When your husband gets deployed, you just do what you have to do," she explained. "Some days I felt like a mechanic. Others, I planted and fertilized grass. The next, I used the Ranger to spray fence lines. I did it all for David and my boys!"
Life for the Perry family was not just limited to their farm, however. Elizabeth worked as an Emergency Room nurse with Rush Health Systems in Meridian. She also found time to continue her studies for a nurse practitioner’s degree at Auburn University. She ferried the children to school, where Cecil and J.D. both played football, and Tanner played baseball. Even more amazing, Elizabeth oversaw the construction of their home, which had begun before David was deployed.

 

David Perry taught Cecil how to drive the tractor and put out hay for the animals.

David Perry is also the 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent for both Sumter and Choctaw counties. Deployment meant that he answered a higher call to serve his country, while leaving behind a job he loved. Because of his service and sacrifice, his 4-H family willingly stepped forward to help.
Before David left, he had organized the county livestock show and arranged most of the details. In his absence, however, Johnny Gladney, Extension Agent for Animal Science and Forages in West Alabama, pitched in to help. Gladney went to different farms, checking on students and their animals and helping them prepare for the show. Elizabeth Perry also helped by sending reminders to all the kids and their parents and holding a grooming clinic to train 4-H’ers to prepare their animals for the ring.
Both of Perry’s sons showed at the county event and moved on to State. Elizabeth and the boys loaded and set up all the equipment for this contest and made sure it all came together. The State event was live-streamed, so David Perry got to watch as Cecil and J.D. showed their calves, a very special time for all the family.
Others also came forward to lend a hand. Probate Judge Michael Armistead and the Choctaw County Commission increased the county’s allocation so that a part- time employee could be hired. Susan Thompson, a retired agent, volunteered to conduct the 4-H meetings at Patrician Academy, while Lisa Moore, another retired teacher, who serves as a TES 4-H agent, covered all the other schools in Choctaw County and coordinated "Classroom in the Forest." Leigh Akins, the Marengo County Regional agent, handled the clubs in Sumter County. Pamela Maten, a 4-H volunteer, helped with the competitions. Brandy Phillips, the Administrative Support Associate for Choctaw County Extension, took care of 4-H registrations and many other things. Elizabeth Perry helped in many other ways, such as taking 11 kids for a three-day 4-H Camp this summer in Columbiana.
"It was a team effort," stated Brandy Phillips. "If David could sacrifice so much to keep us safe, we could help him out here at home." To show their appreciation in another way, 4-H members wrote letters and assembled care packages for David’s birthday in April.

Elizabeth Perry took students to the summer 4-H camp in Columbiana. Her husband’s deployment meant that Elizabeth had to fill in and help with numerous 4-H activities.

 
   
   

As the new school year began in August, David Perry was still deployed, still protecting our freedom, still sacrificing for his country. Back home in Choctaw and Sumter counties, however, dedicated volunteers once again stepped forward to start the new year for David and to keep his beloved 4-H programs going until he gets home

Even the community reached out to thank David Perry. This year at the opening ceremonies for the local rodeo, Cecil and J.D. rode their horses and carried the Army and Navy flags in honor of their father. It was a very emotional tribute that touched everyone there.

Through this experience, Elizabeth Perry and her sons have changed. "I have learned a lot about myself and what I can handle," she stated. "There were days that it would have been easy to get down, but I never wanted the boys to think we couldn’t do this. David is making a much greater sacrifice than any of us. I am with our children every day, but David is not! That’s so hard on him."
Elizabeth pointed out that she and the boys learned to be more patient and to take things one day at a time. All the Perrys have become stronger physically and emotionally. Elizabeth also stated that even though she has always been a Christian, this experience has made her lean even more on God.
"This deployment has been a humbling experience," Elizabeth stated. "It is so important to cherish every moment and enjoy the little things in life."
David is now home, just in time for Christmas. But for Elizabeth Perry and her sons, along with David’s 4-H family, this Christmas will have a much deeper meaning. You see, they discovered the true meaning of Christmas this past year!
Thank you for your service, David Perry!

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..