Imagine living without cell phones, computers -- even TV, air conditioning and
radio! Horrors! What did we do with all that extra time? I don’t recall that
we had any! When I was a kid my brother and I were directly involved in the
successes and failures of our family enterprises. The whole family was
“people oriented,” very active with friends, neighbors and in Olivet church.
Women took pride in having their washing on the line early in the day, in
making neat patches on men’s overalls and in providing their families with
tasty, nourishing food. We all worked together to have a productive garden,
successful crops and a tip-top retail dairy operation. My brother and I worked
right along with our parents because that’s the way families were -- teams,
like the mules, working shoulder to shoulder to pull the load.
I liked helping on the farm more than helping in the kitchen because I enjoyed
being outdoors. The main attraction though, was seeing things changing,
improving, growing day by day. Housework needed to be done over and over,
always the same, but I helped there, too.
Each year, soon after the corn came up, Dad would say, “This will be a good
weekend to replant corn.” He’d sharpen our hoes and my brother and I would
fill our overall pockets with corn to put seeds in where the planter had
skipped, wasting space.
We’d each work two rows at a time because there weren’t too many skipped
places. When I found one, I’d turn the hoe sideways to chop a triangular hole
about 3 inches deep, drop in three kernels and drag dirt back to fill the
hole. As I stepped on the dirt to firm it around the seed, I knew that three
more plants, six more ears, would grow in that spot. I was doing something
that needed to be done.
Dad, like many other farmers, used to check his corn rows. That meant that
they could cultivate across the width of the field as well as down the long
rows. This left few weeds but it wasted space. With the development of
commercial fertilizers, farmers began to plant more seeds in each row. That
ended cross cultivation and meant that we would chop weeds out with hoes. Dad
hired a neighbor boy, George Williams, and all four of us worked part of the
time. We’d work two rows at a time, as with replanting. I’d look back at the
rows where those weeds were wilting on the ground and be glad they wouldn’t
rob the soil of food and drink needed for our corn plants.
One year, after the corn was laid ~by, too tall for the cultivator to pass
over without damage, there were still weeds between the rows. We hitched the
“riding mule” to our one-row garden cultivator and I rode as Dad walked
behind, guiding the cultivator by its two handles. My job was to keep Jack
from stepping on corn and to keep him from snitching tasty leaves.
In geography class that September, when we were studying farming, our teacher
read, “Corn is planted in rows that are 18 inches apart.” I flung my hand in
the air. “That’s wrong!” I said. “I’ve been riding a mule between corn rows
this summer and I know he’s wider than 18 inches!” The teacher called Mom
that evening and said that I’d been impudent. Mom agreed. But she also
verified that corn rows were farther apart than the width of that mule.
I had other chores, but maybe that’ll be for some other Tuesday.