Fruitcake and mishaps surround memories of the season
Mychal Wilmes remembers how his mother's baking was a balm even when things went wrong.
Mother announced that she would make fruit cake the week before Thanksgiving so that it might age some before Christmas. The news produced a mixed reaction around the breakfast table.
Fruitcake, said a foolish person who won’t be identified to avoid embarrassment, was mostly inedible. He wished he hadn’t said that because he knew better. Candied cherries, butternuts that Dad worked constantly to crack, and orange rind were indeed tasty.
Fruitcake for our use were put in the freezer while others were meant for the mailman and milkman, uncles, and aunts. How she found the time for extra baking was a mystery, because her weekly workload included several loaves of bread, buns, and loads of dirty clothes.
Bread dough rose as if by magic (unless the yeast which she carefully nursed had somehow failed) in the large bread pan and fell over the sides. It was difficult, although not impossible, to be in a bad mood when the aroma of bread topped with melted butter filled the house.
It had not otherwise been a good day. An ice storm and a couple of inches of snow had fallen, which necessitated putting chains on the Oliver 888 so that it would navigate the steep hill to the long and narrow corn crib located at its crest. The chains clanged against the Oliver’s fender because they were put on too loose and the sound carried far in the windless morning.
The corn crib was a source of pride but shoveling ear corn into the Owatonna mixer mill was not easy. A far bigger challenge awaited.
The feed room door was narrow, and backing the mixer mill so the auger could fit through the door was a talent that I lacked. If the auger hit the side of the feed room, it could be bent.
My brothers, who were working on a tractor’s engine in the garage’s warmth, knew immediately what had happened when I entered the garage.
“You idiot," one of them said.
It sometimes seemed that “idiot" was my first name. It was useless to say that one of them could have helped guide me to the open door. Their work grinding valves was a higher calling.
The auger was made straight, and the sheared bolts replaced. The Owatonna mixer mill managed to survive additional abuse that I had inflicted on it. The Oliver also endured.
It was a big improvement over the Allis Chalmers WC, which was a beast to handle when a cultivator was mounted on its frame. It lacked hydraulics, which helped build arm muscles. The Oliver came with a rear-mounted cultivator and power steering, which was a 10-fold improvement.
The Oliver and I got along fabulously until its front end dropped out because U-bolts sheared in the middle of a corn field. The consensus among my brothers said that sort of thing could only happen to me.
At least I still had the WC, a spoked wheel model with good iron built before World War II. During the war years tractor manufacturers switched to war production and used less heavy steel.
The WC was crank started, which was important because it was attached to the manure spreader and there was no indoor space available. The WC never failed to start even in the coldest weather. However, it was necessary to burn paper feed bags and twine beneath its oil pan so that oil could flow.
It also had a nasty kicking habit, which meant the person doing the cranking could suffer a broken arm. Above all else, the WC was reliable, which is more than could be said about the manure spreader.
The standing order was to loosen the frozen apron and to not fill it too full least the apron break. It was never clear as to how much was too much. Limping back to the garage when the apron broke became far too common and earned “you idiot" comments.
Mother’s fresh baked bread provided comfort in those trying times.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.