Friday, October 26, 2007


I read in the paper where fruit farmers will be getting more money from the government, for what I do not know. Perhaps this subsidy is to ward off fruit flies. Whatever the reason, some of that federal funding will go to the Michigan apple farmers. I'm not sure, though, that it will help the sugar beet farmers, because I don't know if by any stretch of the imagination you could call a sugar beet a fruit.

My father farmed at a time when subsidies were nonexistent. I'm not sure he would have accepted a subsidy anyway. He was not too pleased with being offered money from any source for anything other than his own hard work. He plowed his fields with horses or mules, every Spring, planted his Golden Bantam corn, and somehow kept the corn bores from eating up the crop. He must have done it with prayer, because he had no way of applying chemical spray and couldn't have afforded it anyway.

Every late summer and early fall, he sold corn. We had a stand beside the house, under a couple of pine trees, and the corn stand consisted of lopped-off tree trunks holding up a plank. There was a cigar box to hold the money, and the corn was stacked under the trees.

He also sold to fruit stands and stores, with Hubert's help. Hubert came with his Cadillac, the one he had won in a Poker Game, loaded up the corn, and took the produce and Pop on a drive to the markets. I went with them one time, and a more boring day I have never spent, waiting in the car while they went in to peddle their wares. I was very happy to return home, the corn sold, the money in Pop's pocket.

Hubert loved corn. He could eat a dozen ears in a minute's time. I think he liked corn far more than the rest of us. I never eat corn-on-the-cob. It is messy and one ends up with butter spread from ear-to-ear. It just seems like too much effort when there are other, easier items one can eat instead. As it was, we always had cornmeal baked golden in a pan, gravied corn and every other corn possibility to choose from.

Mom canned the corn, scraping those kernels off right down to the bare cob. Our corn always tasted like cob, but it wasn't a horrible taste, but rather a smooth, milky flavor. When the corn was placed on the table, Pop always had a pleased smile on his face, proud of his accomplishment. If he had known that corn would ever be considered as fuel for automobiles, he would have considered that a waste of perfect Golden Bantam, fit for the stomachs of kings.

Our farm was not the typical, picturesque spot you see in magazines, little havens of bucolic Mother Nature, complete with contented cows browsing in green pastures and painted red tractors placed in the farmyard. Our cows, before Hoof & Mouth decimated our cattle, were noisy, usually covered with dung and dirt, and sometimes aggressive. They had a habit of standing in a group at the fenceline, staring at humans. Sometimes they lowed mournfully when they saw anyone in the yard. They always frightened me, mainly because they followed me. I don't know if you call it "following," because in my mind, they were stalking me. They weren't lovable like the mules, who nibbled at your fingers and tried to move in closer to give you hugs.

Pop tethered the mules in the front yard from time to time to keep the grass down. After my sister, Helma, had her first child, Bobby Joe, while her husband was in the Army, Pop erected a fence around the yard. Bobby Joe toddled around in this big playspace. If I walked to town, he would hang onto the fence and scream, his forlorn cries echoing across the fields. It wasn't easy to leave him behind.

There were always children and dogs in the yard. Our dogs never saw a veterinarian in their lives. They ate table scraps, including corncobs, and lived to be twenty years old. Today, I spend hundreds of dollars taking Jedi to the vet for shots and checkups, feed her specialized dog food, and hope for a lengthy lifespan.

The farm itself had been painted yellow, the color weathering to a sickly puce hue. The front porch sagged to the west and the back porch sagged in the opposite direction. Beside the front porch was a wild rose bush which bloomed in the summer in wild profusion. Tucked into the side of the house, leaning against the kitchen window, was a Tree of Heaven. The back porch had no greenery. It was made of planking which had grown brown and rustic in the harsh winters. The steps led down to a cement structure of sorts, almost like a patio, and in the center of this patio was a boarded-over hole. What it was and what was down there, I do not know. It remained a mystery, because I was always afraid of snakes leaping out at my face if I lifted the planks and peeked. I presume it was an old well, but it may have been a tunnel leading straight to Hell, with the Devil presiding over some evil subterranean chamber.

My brothers were always there, off and on....Harry, Herman, Homer, Hubert, Harold, Hjalmar, Harlan. Their wives were there....Jewel, Dorothy, Emma, Gerry, Connie and Nelle. Harlan wasn't married at the time. My sisters were there off and on....Hazel, Hilda, Helen, Helma. Their husbands were there....Tom, Chop, Shippy and, when Helma married, Joe. Also there, almost all of the time, were the scores of nieces and nephews, my companions, my cohorts, my buddies. We were sublimely happy, with all of those cornfields, meadows, orchards and swamps to run through and play in. We laughed and screamed and giggled. We set up elaborate pranks, and cooked up feuds. Occasionally, we would make one of us cry. Then, we were expert at extricating ourselves from the situation. A mother would come out, clutch her crying child, and look accusingly at the rest of us. "I didn't do it, he did it! Not me, he did it!" was our rallying cry, and not one person ever really figured out who was the guilty party.

Apart from this horde of children were my sister, Helma, and Harry's daughter, Donna. They had entered the Teen World and were considered to be gorgeous. Donna was blonde and had movie-star features. Helma was small and dark, finally healthy, and had beautiful green eyes. She wore her hair long, with a wave at the forehead that took her hours each day to comb into place. They considered the rest of us to be insignificant pestiferous botherations, to put it mildly. In return, we spied on them and never missed a chance to pelt them with ripe tomatoes if they ventured into the yard. They were our natural enemies, these Teen princesses with their saddle oxfords, swing skirts and hip-length sweaters, creatures worthy of our contempt.

We lived happily in this rather gypsy-like world, growing up with very little guidance, just a big group of Topsies, learning about life from each other. If our information was skewed, no one knew the difference. We shared information on sex, adulthood, and various events, events limited to the rather small universe we lived in. We did not realize then how fortunate we were to have that kind of freedom, that what we lacked in formal education, we made up for in creativity....and we invented a happy, carefree world on our own. I have often thought that, if one of us had grown up to be President, perhaps that perfect childhood oblivion could have been shared by everyone everywhere. Perhaps the whole country could have been one big Farm.