The antique tractor calendar has flipped to July and its featured photograph of an 1855 Oliver. The summer seems to be rushing by, with corn reaching taller than head high and the garden yielding peas, zucchini, broccoli, and onions.
Mother’s fruit cellar shelves would in past years be filling fast with strawberry jam and sweet preserves, which when used as a topping for vanilla ice cream was about as good as it gets. The fruit cellar’s shelves were lined with old and brittle newspapers. When time allowed, one could read headlines about President Dwight Eisenhower’s thoughts on the Soviet Union’s Sputnik space program, the outrages going on behind the Iron Curtain, and the all-powerful Yankees quest for yet another championship.
Dad loved the Yankees and the team’s many characters that included Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. He had followed them ever since the crystal radio carried their games. The radio connected the house to the outside world, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was a curse to the extent that Dad lingered over the noon hour to catch a Yankees game, which irked the brothers-in-law who worked beside him.
The radio shocked when on a Sunday morning it carried stunning news of a Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. In the days that followed, my parents listened while President Franklin Roosevelt declared war and prepared the nation for the sacrifices to come.
Roosevelt had been a frequent visitor to the house during the 1930s. His radio voice reassured people that the nation would escape the Great Depression. Reassurance was needed, given that thousands of farms and homes were being lost to foreclosure and unemployed family men wandered through the countryside seeking work in return for a sandwich and a cool drink. Mother obliged and prayed that the men would find work so that they might be reunited with their families.
The war brought a new reality to my parents' neighborhood. German prisoners of war were housed in camps in southern Minnesota. The POWs were thankful for the good fortune that brought them to America instead of a much uglier fate in Soviet Union prisons.
The POWs weeded fields and Mother interacted with them by carrying water and cookies to them. She knew the German language, as a few others in the neighborhood did. The prisoners returned the kindness of communities by hosting Christmas events and making trinkets to give to children.
Mother’s garden, which was large by necessity to feed a large and growing family, demanded much of her attention. Sugar, like tractor tires and machines, was rationed in the war years. It was needed to sweeten elderberry and corncob jellies, and to make lip-puckering-sour gooseberry preserves just a little sweeter.
World War II was long over when I came along, but another had started. Two brothers enlisted and another was drafted as the armed forces fought in Vietnam. Mother prayed that her son would be kept stateside but like thousands of others, he was ordered to Vietnam.
The war was the first televised conflict, which was both good and bad. Walter Cronkite and his correspondents headlined most broadcasts with war news, weekly casualty totals and domestic protests. Through it all we prayed hard and secondarily questioned if we could keep up with the work the farm demanded.
A letter from the distant land was eagerly awaited each day; often the mailbox disappointed but by the time the tour of duty ended, Mother had several letters, which she kept bound in the desk drawer.
The garden was Mother’s escape, and praying was easy while the strawberry bed was weeded and the aggressive raspberry stalks cut.
Growing seasons come quickly and go equally as fast. The memories linger long after and continue to shape our lives.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.