The Minnesota High School Basketball tournament — in the days when small schools battled large ones for a single state title — was must-watch television. Edgerton, a tiny school in western Minnesota, won the title against all odds in 1960 and small Sherburn did the same in 1970.
The tournament took Dad’s mind off the upcoming planting season, which started with oats, barley and spring wheat. Dad wrote planting dates in pencil on the wood lid of a grain drill’s seed box for several years. March 18 was the earliest he recorded, which was great because he said oats yielded best when snow covered it after emergence.
While Dad waited for the ground to firm, Mother started plants from seed indoors. Seed from pumpkins, squash and cucumbers had been saved in labeled baby food bottles.
Chicken manure, of which there was plenty when the coop was cleaned and the hens and other poultry were once again given freedom, best fertilized the garden soil. However, it wasn’t the only fertilizer.
Ashes removed from the wood-burning furnace scattered on the snow all winter added lime, potassium, phosphorus and micronutrients to the soil. She insisted that it also reduced slug and aphid populations in July and August. Calcium from crushed eggshells boosted plant growth and reduced the risk of tomato blight. The early garden yielded parsnips, which were sweeter dug after winter than in fall. The emerging of rhubarb shoots whetted appetites for sauce and upside-down cake.
The geese and ducks celebrated their spring freedom by mucking around in the puddles that formed from melted snow. Mother was proud of her fowl, though she had a love-hate relationship with the geese.
Her ganders were mean enough to chase strangers back to inside their cars and caused panicked relatives to run to the house. The geese also had a bad habit of resting overnight on the cement in front of the house and making a great mess, which was removed daily with wash bucket and mop.
The geese laid eggs in haphazard fashioned near the puddles. When temperatures dropped below freezing, eggs that were not picked up cracked. The marred eggs were saved to be included in cookie dough and cake recipes.
The state basketball tournament motivated us to construct a basketball court in the hayloft. It came to be a court when bales were moved, a hoop was nailed to the back wall, and chaff swept from the floor.
The competition could be brutal — elbows loosened teeth and hard fouls yielded bruises and damaged egos. Dad, unless life and limb endangered, said nothing other than we’d soon need the energy to fix pasture fences knocked down by snowdrifts.
Because the township road cut the farmstead in two with the house and chicken coop on one side and the rest of the outbuildings on the other, the poultry flocked to the gravel. Most drivers waited for the geese, ducks and chickens pass with patience, but others honked their horns and some verbally complained.
It was my job to chase the poultry away.
In addition to the gravel, the ducks and geese ventured to the creek, which was near in the pasture and ran high in spring. After school, my most important task was to bring them back home lest they be taken by fox, mink or fishers.
Although the creek ran in open water, a thin ice layer coated the shore. I thought it strong enough to hold me while I corralled the ducks. It wasn’t, and I was neck-deep in frigid water.
“You just used up one of your nine lives,’’ Dad said, while I moaned about freezing to death during the half-mile walk back from the pasture. He appeared to be calmer than he should have been. It may be that after 12 children, he’d seen it all and worse before.
Mother was much more shaken. For that reason, the ducks and geese were put back in the coop until the spring melt was over, and the creek returned to being a slow-moving stream.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.