Watching the world change before your eyes
Change, personal and otherwise, is often difficult, Mychal Wilmes writes as he reflects on changes to his hometown and his family's reactions to them.
A big crowd gathered to watch the demolition of the old cooperative creamery building in our hometown. The business that accepted milk cans had fallen victim to progress as defined by efficiency and a belief that bigger is always better.
Dad, who seldom was comfortable in large crowds, watched the creamery fall with his youngest son. It was, after all, a landmark event for the town. It was impossible to know that it was just the start of sweeping changes that would reshape the community.
The sawmill that turned out thousands of board feet of lumber fell victim after town residents wearied of the sounds of saw blades ripping through elm and hard maple logs. The mounds of sawdust and bark was an eyesore that the community could no longer tolerate.
The reasons were well understood and accepted. Change, personal and otherwise, is often difficult. Mother was upset when the general store that bought eggs produced from the flock changed direction. It was a great store with all things farm-related. If it was not found in the store, it was likely you did not need it in the first place.
The building remains, and if one listens intently the sight and sounds of Mother with children in tow walking up and down on the creaking wood floor can be heard.
Mother found another outlet for the eggs in the person of a large man who made rounds in a small pickup equipped with adjusted seating so that he was comfortable. He weighed, by some estimates, more than 400 pounds and moved slow and with great effort.
He welcomed help carrying cases up the stairs and repaid helpers with candy bars from a cardboard box kept on the front seat. The candy, even by my low standards, did not approach Hershey-level goodness. Still, the sweets were appreciated because of their rarity.
Dad, on his trips to the local bar that doubled as a gasoline station and conveniently located near the church and surrounded by farm fields, occasionally promised to return home with candy bars or a six-pack of soft drinks. He almost always forgot to keep his promise, which disappointed us to no end.
The unfairness of it all was quickly condemned to no avail. Mother, in her role as peacemaker, tried to make up for it by making Jell-O, a dual-purpose product introduced to her by a neighbor who insisted that it helped children recover from just about any illness if it was consumed in liquid form.
She also was the informal neighborhood babysitter with more than enough sternness to intimidate the most wayward child. The combination of bluster and threat to inform on us was beyond intimidating.
She commanded respect and if it was not received Mother delivered justice in the form a well-placed thumb and finger that squeezed with vice-scrip force on the ear lope. Such discipline was reserved for the worst offenses — public behavior that embarrassed the family and awful words spoken in anger.
Mother was far more about sweetness than anything else. There was no shortage of sweets that took the form of rhubarb upside down cake and a rhubarb sauce seasoned with pineapple chunks. The rhubarb patch, well fertilized with chicken manure, was important because it along with winter onions and asparagus was the first to yield.
Rhubarb, called the “Great Yellow’’ in Southeast Asia, has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries and is celebrated in Siberia and other northern climates for providing life-sustaining vitamins after long winters.
Rhubarb’s goodness was followed by tender asparagus stalks. It is every child’s right to hate the vegetable, which in former times was called “sparrow grass.’’ It is far easier to appreciate asparagus as one grows older, just as it is comfortable looking back to those events that shaped our lives.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.