Urban transplants find wedded bliss marrying into Virginia farm families
“This is how an NCIS episode starts,” Matt Fimon realized.
He was 1,000 miles from home, his phone was dead, and he was in the back seat of a car driven up Mill Mountain by two women he’d just met in Roanoke.
They kept him out dancing until 2 a.m. Four months later he was engaged to one of them.
Born and raised in Crystal, Minnesota, Matt’s education and subsequent career in human resources kept him in busy downtown Minneapolis. In 2017, the urban bachelor was ready for adventure. He set a goal to run a half- or full marathon in all 50 states.
Lindy Tucker happened to be visiting her friend in Roanoke the weekend of his first race—the Blue Ridge Marathon. He noticed Lindy, and considered the best approach.
“I came up with two goofy ways to pronounce ‘Roanoke,’ so I could go up and ask her how to pronounce it,” Matt said. But he hesitated with every attempt.
“I’m fully deaf in my right ear,” he explained. “A band was playing and it was way too loud, so I knew I wouldn’t hear anything. Lindy and her friend sat there laughing. They said, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’”
Two hours later, he was in the back of their car on a dark mountain road.
“Eh, he looked harmless,” Lindy joked.
“After that night, I thought I wouldn’t see them again,” Matt said. “But they were both there at the race, supporting me, holding signs that said ‘Run, Minnesota, Run!’”
Matt and Lindy became pen pals, and arranged to rendezvous at another race in South Dakota.
“We were engaged four months later, and married a year later,” he said. “And she made it clear she wasn’t leaving Virginia.”
City boy bucks the odds
The Tucker family’s agricultural roots run deep in Southside Virginia. In addition to working the family farm, Rome Farm in Brunswick County, Lindy serves as a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Lunenburg County, and as chairman of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee.
“My own agriculture background was watching John Wayne movies with my dad and grandpa, fantasizing to someday own a horse,” Matt said.
Matt’s family and friends thought he couldn’t hack it on a cattle farm, but his watch-and-learn approach working in human resources serves him well on the farm.
“I just help where I can, moving hay, working the cows and calves,” he said. “And the great thing about cows, compared to the HR field—cows don’t talk back.”
Matt’s broad social network in Minneapolis meant many people knew his name. But in Virginia he is often referred to as “Lindy’s husband,” or “Lewis Tucker’s son-in-law.”
Southside Virginia people are great, Matt explained, “but they’re going to judge you off your family and people you’re connected to. I’m judged on the Tuckers and their history.”
If Matt hadn’t met Lindy, maybe he’d still be running marathons. But he’s thriving as a supportive husband and father to their 1-year-old, Mattie.
“In certain seasons in life, we have to support one another, and right now it’s a priority in Lindy’s season,” Matt said.
“When you find the person you want to be with the rest of your life, you want to make sacrifices. Life is on a detour right now, and it’s a pretty good one.”
‘Wouldn’t change a thing’
Karen Heberlein Henderson thought a bush hog was a breed of swine, “Over Yonder” was the name of a town, and sugar didn’t belong in tea.
The newlywed was still adjusting to rural life at Cave Hollow Farm after moving to Botetourt County from Annandale in Fairfax County.
“I had fire under my tires in Northern Virginia,” Karen said. Some of her friends, and even her mother-in-law, weren’t sure she could handle the transition to a slower pace when she married Jeff Henderson, a low-key, fifth-generation farmer. “In Northern Virginia, I’m fast-moving, fast-talking, fast-driving. But they’re busy in a different way down here.”
The Hendersons had been introduced through a mutual friend, and engaged eight weeks later. Despite being opposites, premarital personality tests revealed the couple’s undeniable compatibility.
“All the qualities I wanted, he had,” Karen said. “It was just a matter of lifestyle change. I’m extroverted, he’s introverted. I’m an emotional thinker, he’s a logical thinker. But boy, has he helped me grow.”
Her first night visiting Botetourt, Karen was invited to stay at Jeff’s parents’ house, and attend a dance at the women’s club. He picked her up at Radford University, where she was an English and technical writing major.
“There were no streetlights,” Karen recalled, as they rode in darkness down state Route 779. “I was thinking of everything my mom and dad told me—don’t go with a guy to a place you don’t know. Four miles on that road felt like 30 miles; I was scared.”
But a wonderful farm family, and a new way of life, welcomed her on Henderson Lane.
She was surprised to see that Jeff’s family kept milk in a Tupperware container, fresh from cows milked that morning.
“I said, ‘Mrs. Henderson, there’s something floating on the top of this milk. I think it’s curdled.’”
She replied, “That’s cream, honey.”
About 175 people attended their Annandale wedding on April 24, which is Karen’s grandmother’s birthday and also a busy time of year for farmers.
“It was the first time, and to-date the only time, that all of us were away from the farm overnight at once,” Jeff said.
When the couple returned from their honeymoon, “I sat my bag down, got dressed, got a corn planter and didn’t come home until dark for two weeks,” Jeff recalled.
Expectation meets reality
Karen would learn the hard way that farm demands take precedence over daily comforts. Cooking was an expression of love in her Polish family; and growing up, her dad was always home for dinner by 5 p.m.
“I was making these Southern Living meals, ready on the table at 6:30 p.m., with Jeff rolling in at 8,” Karen said. “I would get mad. I wanted to run home to daddy.”
One night, she almost did, but Jeff’s grandfather stopped her at the door.
“’Even if you think Jeff doesn’t need you, I know I do,’” she recalled him pleading. “That was the turning point in our marriage.”
Jeff’s grandparents’ health began to decline, and they moved into the Hendersons’ home.
Gratitude is a function of perspective
“When they moved in, it got my mind off the little things that upset me about being here,” Karen said. “Those things dissolve when you have someone in your house who is dying. Caregiving was the best thing that happened to our marriage.”
The Hendersons went on to have three children. Their daughter Courtney is now the sixth generation working on the family dairy farm with her dad and grandfather.
A lot has changed since Karen was a college student reading Shakespeare next to Jeff in the tractor. She’s helped care for his grandparents, raised children, kept house, worked off-farm jobs, and suffered her own chronic pain and illness.
“And I wouldn’t change a thing.”