Thursday, September 6, 2012

Doin's On

From James W. Riley book of poems

Sometimes when I use old country grammar it gives me my dose of James Whitcomb Riley for the day.  Being of that generation where we read, memorized and could quote local poets, I grew up with Mr. Riley.  Much like this area’s children grew up with Carl Sandburg.

Kids fight memorization and truthfully it’s not my best talent.  I think I learned it because it was repeated so many times it simply lodged in my memory bank; never to be erased.  Should I subside to elderly dementia, I’m sure the last reasonable sentence from my mouth will be, “When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodders in the shock….”

I never think of fall without this poem running through my mind.  From there my internal Riley goes to visions of every farm yard looking like Tanner’s Orchard and every child romping through corn fields tied with shocks of corn stalks. 

Old postcard
I doubt most children would even realize there was a time when man cut the corn stalks, removed the corn by hand, and tied up the shocks in the fields.  Today, a corn shock is merely an advertising gimmick or a lamp post decoration.

One of my treasures is an old sepia photo of my dad on a wagon pulled by horses.  He was piling sheaves of wheat.  When he passed, we included a sheaf of wheat in his coffin.  It was a tribute to an old farmer who knew what it was to work the land by hand and by horse. 

I think many gardeners who still want to get the hands dirty have that need to stay in touch with how our past generations tilled the land.  On one hand we may use the latest and greatest machinery and on the other hand we will be on our hands and knees touching the soil.  It’s a connection of sorts.

Perennial mums
Work long enough in the garden and you’ll have a scratch or a callous from the effort.  Something my dad had from a lifetime of hard work. 

I went back to Indiana this summer and visited some of my farm family.  I was pulled back into my past as surely as if I’d been on a WD in high gear. 

One big family just happened to be in the middle of putting up sweet corn.  Everybody had a job and there was all the good natured kidding, talk of who was doing what, everyone laboring hard and everyone taking home plenty of corn for the freezer.  Later we walked through their new shed and looked at their machinery; all so different than fifty plus years ago. 

I do miss the smells – I know if you’re not a farm kid that may seem crazy.  We had cattle and hogs when I was growing up.  Hogs I don’t miss.  Cattle I do.  I can call up the smells of the barn this very moment especially hay and the warm smell of cattle.  OK – farmers YOU know what I mean!!!

Farm kids spent many hours in all places of the farmstead.  Climbing in the haymow and hanging over the feeders to watch the new baby pigs or calves was part of the life.  Sitting in the tool shed messing with “stuff” while dad worked on something.  Feeding and brushing my 4-H calf. 

Off the web
And another personal favorite was picking anything that vaguely resembled a flower.  My mom had more “unusual” floral arrangements than most; accepted graciously and promptly put in a juice glass.

I suppose the one memory that could have been family lore was when I found a nest of mice in the pile of bricks behind the coal shed.  One was dead and I thought it was so soft I decided to keep it for awhile.  Next day while visiting relatives, I pulled it out of my pocket to proudly show others.  I think that was when my big city mother started having serious doubts about the thrill of raising a farm girl.

Pickin' corn by our house
Enough of memory lane; I’ll put Mr. Riley away – at least until they start pickin’ corn in our neck of the woods.            

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