October is a wellspring of memories of a dad anxious to harvest corn with a two-row picker mounted on an overworked and overloaded Allis Chalmers WD.
Mother worried that nerves would get the best of him, which may explain why she mentioned a cousin suffered a nervous breakdown many years ago.
They found the cousin in a nearly full silo with a shotgun and an excuse that he was hunting racoons. The story may have been true or useful fiction as a cautionary tale. In any case, she similarly worried about her youngest son, who worked two jobs and burned a candle at both ends as young people sometimes do.
She sought to influence through heavenly intervention, which he often asked for while sitting in her favorite living room chair near the window that let sunlight in to warm the room. She was often found asleep there on late nights while waiting for her son to return. There was no cause for real concern, but as she said, it is a mother’s duty to carry the burden.
Mother had seen so much in a life that spanned the first long-distance plane flight to the moon landing. As a newlywed, she and her husband rode to town in a horse-drawn sleigh with heated rocks at their feet. The black Ford — I forget if it was a Model T or A — was unreliable.
The rented house was much too small for the rapidly growing family, and money from the cows, hogs and chickens was spread paper thin. In the worst of it, Dad took a winter job in town shoveling coal from railroad jobs, which weaned him of any notion that life was better in town.
Mother’s large garden yielded an immense bounty, and what was not harvested from it was gathered in nearby pastures and woods. Elderberries and chokecherries made good jelly, and canned gooseberries, wild plums and pickled crabapples were treats. Corn cob jelly — as unappetizing as it may sound — was not bad. She drew a line when it involved barley coffee, which while unappealing cost nothing.
She and I were alone in the house that used to overflow with children during the time she waited up for me. Dad had been lost a decade before just before silo-filling. He was felled by a heart attack during the night after spending the day raking fourth-cutting alfalfa. He left behind work shoes stuffed with wool socks beside the recliner he did not want his son to use and a wife who spent more than 50 years at his side in good times and bad. I had seen her cry once before — when a son left for Vietnam with assurances that her prayers would bring him back alive.
It was bad that Dad did not see one more harvest, and worse we had exchanged angry last words concerning some things that did not amount to a hill of green beans.
I was left to ponder the stupidity of it all. To honor him in a minute and silly way, I found the pack of cigarettes that he kept in the car and smoked one in his honor. The smoke and the nicotine sent my head spinning. I used his work boots until they fell apart, figuring to walk in his steps in a spiritual way.
Mother and I lived alone for a decade more. It was time for a nursing home, a move that left her son feeling guilty for all that she had given and for all that had been lost.
The house where she baked, canned and washed belongs to another. However, what is most valuable and remains inside its walls is the love that bonded a family together through thick and thin.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.