Sometimes the dirty work is cleansing

One of my uncles is a poultry farmer in Randolph County, about 75 miles northeast of Charlotte.

At 6 feet, 5 inches, with red hair and a bushy red beard, he's hard to miss.

When my aunt shops for his clothes, she has a unique way of checking the size.

If she can hold the waistband of the pants to her shoulder, and the cuff hits the ground, then they're long enough.

She calls him her giant.

I have always admired my uncle Kent Atkinson, not only because of his stature, but also because he works so hard.

I don't know if his job is dirty enough to qualify for Discovery Channel, but it is certainly relentless, seven-days-a-week work.

One time we visited Uncle Kent just as he was going out to feed and water the animals, clean the houses and inspect the birds.

My brother joined him. Thank God it was summer so we could roll the car windows down on the ride home; I had never smelled anything so foul (no pun intended) in my life.

"What?" my brother said incredulously as I hung my head out the window, gasping for fresh air.

My uncle's work often meant, over the years, that he was unable to take vacations or visit family when the rest of us were gathering.

The chickens, especially when the weather was extreme or they were young, required intense care.

As a younger person, I often wondered why anyone would want a job like that.

Now that I have a job of my own, I think I understand the nature of dirty work.

Mostly, I write and do other odd jobs that require me to sit at a computer.

But I am also a stay-at-home mom for three preschool-aged children.

While not as intense, I'm sure the sound and smell at our house often approximates a chicken house.

Sometimes when my husband comes home, he's taken aback by the sensory experience while I, having grown accustomed to it, just look at him incredulously as he fans the air: "What?"

Although my uncle works so hard, I have never seen him in a bad mood; I have never heard him complain about anything.

I wish I could say the same for myself.

When Uncle Kent is able to come to family gatherings, he's always smiling or quietly joking with whomever is nearby. His eyes twinkle gently.

He told me once the secret to his calm demeanor.

In addition to the poultry, my uncle also raises a herd of cows.

After a long, noisy day with the chickens, he visits the cows.

I don't know what he talks to them about, but he says the cows double as therapists.

Maybe so, but he still must work hard to take care of them.

While mine is not always the most glamorous of jobs, I appreciate that wiping bottoms and noses is important work.

Being directly responsible for another living being - or, in my uncle's case, thousands of them - often means getting pretty dirty.

But maybe there's something cleansing about it.