Long johns stayed on until winter was gone
Dad had many important lessons in farming and general living.
The pin oak stubbornly clings to its dead leaves through winter storms and muscular winds. Dad admired the tree for its refusal to give up what it had grown.
He freely shared his unique habits and opinions with relatives and neighbors at the dinner table or in the comfort of a maple’s shade. Those thoughts and habits were on occasion the source of ridicule from those who didn’t comprehend.
Long johns were to be worn from October through April, a seed potato slice should have at least two eyes and perhaps three, corn should be planted when oak leaves are as large as squirrel ears, one or two salt tablets help better tolerate the heat while shocking grain on a steamy August day; and a jack knife cut from plug tobacco helps a person to relax.
When a neighboring farmer riding a tractor traveling from a distant field stopped to chat, he was offered cold water from the well head. Talk turned to the price of cattle, hogs, milk, and grain. The men agreed that little money was to be made in all of them.
From the tractor seat, it was the Democrats fault and from the fender on which Dad leaned, it was the Republicans. They shared the opinion that unless things changed, family farmers would no longer exist.
“We got to get government out of agriculture,’’ the man said.
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Dad lamented cheap food, which he said allowed consumers to buy new cars and other things that they didn’t necessarily need.
Franklin Roosevelt was the best president ever, Dad said. The opinion didn’t sit well with the tractor driver who replied that Roosevelt was the one who got government in agriculture. The Farm Bureau agreed with him, advocating as it did that federal involvement was bad for the country.
In due course, the conversation ended with little agreement on a host of other issues from Sputniks to John Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon.
It was time to fetch the cows. The pasture — awash in dandelions and wild flowers, was lush and the mosquitoes hadn’t yet arrived in full force. A few “come bosses’’ and the animals, led by the bell cow, moved slowly toward the barn. Dad had only recently decided after a long debate with the salesman to replace milk cans with a bulk tank. The seller convinced him that getting rid of cans would make for lighter work and better milk.
The cows found their familiar stanchions and Dad tuned the radio to WCCO Radio, which soon would broadcast the Minnesota Twins game. Camilo Pascual would pitch, and announcer Halsey Hall would tell his stories.
Dad said the cows didn’t need much grain cause the grass was good and corn was running short. A bin was halfway full of barley, which would fill the gap until fall.
Later in summer, when the pasture was worn down and mosquitoes and horseflies dominated, he asked about the butternut trees and if they were loaded with nuts. Harvest wouldn’t come until fall when several gunny sacks were put in a two-wheeled cart pulled by a tractor.
By that time, I would be another school year older and more willing to join in discussions with his friends about the state of the world in which more things were going wrong than right.
It was around this time that Dad offered me tobacco — what appeared to be a huge cut from his plug to try. The earth started to spin like it did after a county fair ride. Dad laughed and asked me not to tell Mother about it.
He taught me many other and better things. Among their lot was that it is important for pin oaks to hold their leaves and to wait until oak leaves are as big as squirrel ears before planting corn. What remains most important, however, is to remember the times spent together.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.