Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Watching the sky for rain was a yearly occupation

The calves, kicking their hind legs up high, were cavorting over the pasture. A sign of rain — puffy clouds — floated in from the west, but no rain fell. The wind shifted, tree leaves showed their underneath sides and tall grass leaned westward, but there were only a few sprinkles. Finally the weatherman said, "Possible scattered showers today, tonight and tomorrow." He missed it again! The most reliable weather information of all, in the early ’50s, was that "All signs fail in dry weather."

Chub and I had bought this small, worn-out farm because my dear old dad, said, "The west 80 will produce enough to pay interest and taxes on the entire 160 acres."

The land had not been tilled for four years, and there were puny corn stalks, with unpicked nubbin ears, in the 18-acre corn field. It was a sorry sight. Dad said, "I’ll help you clean it up and enrich the soil," so we bought it for only $30 per acre. First, Chub had lime and fertilizer spread on the cornfield and part of the pasture land, but money was in short supply.

We borrowed two things: money for the down payment and farm machinery from Dad. He and Chub plowed and planted that cornfield the first year and began the long task of tearing out old fences, plowing in gullies and grubbing cut roots and sprouts from the rest of the farm. Luckily, they didn’t work on the biggest gully in the poorest part of the farm. Money was going out, but none was coming in.

We soon learned why farmers watched the sky and looked for signs of rain, why weather was a ready topic of conversation on the party line, at church, in town on Saturdays and at auction sales. Mark Twain said, "If you don’t like Missouri weather, wait a minute." Will Rogers repeated the adage, "All signs fail in dry weather." And old farmers taught us that "possible showers" not followed by a good soaking rain was a sign that dry weather was coming. We got ample rain that first year.

Chub and Dad kept clearing and leveling fields but didn’t get to that big gully. Corn sprang up in neat rows on many acres that second year. But when it was knee high, many people prayed for rain and stared at cloudless skies. Radio announcers called a sunny day "nice weather," and farmers winced at the sound of those words. They needed rain and lots of it.

Corn leaves went limp when it was waist high, and rain still didn’t fall. The weatherman predicted, "Possible scattered showers." As roots reached farther down for moisture, little tassels formed on shoulder high stalks; leaves turned yellow and soon began to rattle in the hot winds. This crop would never make grain! University of Missouri’s Ag Extension agents distributed information and directions for making temporary storage for chopped corn using trench silos, also called pit silos.

Chub hired a bulldozer to reshape that big old gully into a deeper, wider trench. Lined with huge, black plastic sheeting, it made a usable silo. Field choppers harvested the immature corn, and truckers stored it in the pit, which had natural drainage. More heavy plastic sheeting covered the corn to keep it from spoiling and old auto tires held it in place. In time, the corn fermented to make ensilage, which cows love. Chub fed it out, bringing the cows through the winter in good shape.

Now, more than 40 years later, the fields are in grass for grazing, and we’re adding lime and fertilizer — and watching the sky for rain clouds.

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