Dad’s five-buckle overshoes, patched in one or more places and usually missing a clasp, were mine to borrow in bitterly cold conditions. I could use them after promising not to run a pitchfork tine through one while cleaning a calf pen or bedding barn stalls.
It was not an unusual occurrence.
Brother Vern ran a tine through his foot, which he hid out of fear that our Mother might overreact. She depended on home remedies handed down from relatives and neighbors but turned to a doctor administered tetanus shot when necessary. Such was the case when I caught the ham part of my hand while fiddling with a baler chute.
The doctor cleaned the wound, applied several stitches, and administered the shot — all without Novocain. He said I was blessed with high pain tolerance — a diagnosis that I strongly disagreed with.
Dad was skeptical of all doctors, saying that toughness could be measured by avoiding going to a medical professional. Not all the 12 children Mother birthed entered the world in a maternity ward. However, my parents were in a pickle when the date for her delivery of twins approached and the doctor would not be available.
He was due to leave on a long-planned hunting trip to South Dakota, which given the potential complications of a twin birth, worried my parents. Dad, who could be stubborn and argumentative, came up with a workable compromise. The doctor, Mother explained years later, agreed to stick around town only after Dad agreed that he could hunt on the farm anytime he wanted to.
The twins were born without complications.
Unfortunately, medical situations did not always work out.
My oldest sibling was a teenager when she came down with rheumatic fever, which often begins with strep throat and is mostly seen in children ages 5 to 15. The lingering illness can cause painfully swollen joints, fever, fatigue and other symptoms. The remedy then was bed rest.
Rheumatic fever has a devastating complication — potentially significant and long-term damage to the heart. My sister, who I never knew in life, died before I was born. Mother kept a formal photograph of her on the wall near her favorite reading chair. I knew my sister to be beautiful but little else.
My parents rarely talked of her, but it was learned that she had a first boyfriend. However, the doctor recommended that going out would add too much stress on the heart and thus she should be kept home. She rebelled against the restriction without success.
I was left to wonder what she might have become had she lived, and thought the burden on my parents must have been immense. It was eased only by my parents’ sure knowledge that she was in the arms of angels.
Death does not tear apart bonds, and memories and love endure forever. Mother told me that my grandfather (who I never knew) was a lucky man because of the circumstances of his death. He and the family went on a Sunday afternoon looking at the crops. He suffered a heart attack while they checked on the grain.
I did not disagree her opinion.
My father spent his last day third-cutting alfalfa windrows on a pleasant September afternoon. His sudden passing was made worse by words left unspoken. The last sentence said to him was angry, a guilt that stayed with me for a long time.
As my siblings reach past his age and I approach it, we share our physical challenges without complaint. One has cancer, another suffered a heart attack, still another is dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s, there is a rip replacement and spinal arthritis.
In youth, growing old is seen as a remote possibility. The decades that have passed so suddenly lead to reflection on our shared heritage.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.