Shenanigans that included petty thefts and youthful buffoonery caused tongues to wag in our neighborhood. Gasoline stealing, which by our opinion was done by outsiders, produced vows to lock their barrels.
Farmers who grew sweet corn for the canning company complained about people helping themselves when the crop was ready, but no one — other than a woman thief whose car would not start as she attempted to leave — was directly confronted.
Mother, who picked field corn and said that while it was not sweet was still better than nothing, said that swiping a few ears among countless thousands was still stealing. She also reminisced about earlier times when rascals tipped over outhouses. There also was the chicken stealer, who angered people after he hit several coops in the neighborhood.
The thefts continued for an entire summer until someone armed with a shotgun caught a man leaving a coop with a gunny sack containing a few hens. It transpired that the thief had mental problems and the stolen birds were part of a weird ritual.
Our weekly newspaper reported on dog snatchers working the area. The canines were taken and then sold to institutions for research. A healthy farm dog could fetch $25.
The neighborhood was shocked when a farmer reported that his pickup engine had been ruined when someone had spiked the gasoline tank with sugar. He was certain who did it, but there was no proof. He and a neighbor had been in a long dispute and the vandalism involved getting even.
We sometimes made up our own crime stories. One involved homeless railroad riders who took shelter in a nearby abandoned farmstead. It was supposed they were on the lookout for kids our age. It was easy to believe that our stories contained a kernel of truth on nights when the sky held a trillion stars and the wind rattled through the trees.
Grim reality sometimes intruded on our make believe. Such was the case when we heard that a neighboring dairy farmer had put a half-dozen kittens in a sack, weighted it with a rock and drowned the kittens in a stock tank. His son explained that his dad was not cruel, because their barn had been overrun with unwanted cats. We disagreed, because his father was the kind who veered while driving to hit squirrels, cottontails and even raccoons.
Mother, who was unfailingly kind to animals both big and small, said we ought not judge. Our own cat population, which thrived on cow milk, strainer filters, mice and haymow pigeons, expanded and shrank due to natural forces. Our cat herd (the correct word for a group of felines is a clowder and several kittens are called a kindle) periodically was stricken with distemper.
Wild tomcats that appeared to be three times larger than regular toms sometimes visited to kill kittens so they could have the full attention of females. An orange tomcat had finished killing a calico’s litter before he was chased with the aid of a pitchfork to the empty silo where he met his end with a rifle.
I could not then nor now hit the broad side of a barn, which was a handicap when we hunted pigeons in the haymow with a BB gun. We hunted them — despite their reputation as rats with wings — for their meat. Mother put the dressed pigeons in a pressure cooker with a heap of dressing. Pigeons’ dark meat was moist and delicious.
Some farmers welcomed pigeon shooters to hunt while others — fearful that their barn’s roof would be filled with holes — refused them.
The transgressions that occurred gave us something to talk about. Stories that contained a nugget of truth became exaggerated far beyond their importance. We were, more or less, an unofficial and colorful news source for our neighborhood.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.