Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's harvest time.  Well, maybe not here in Southern California it's not.  But, back home in Kansas where I grew up, things are in full swing.  The combines are out cutting, the trucks are hauling the grain, the farmers turn into zombie maniacs who start spouting words like "bushel" and "weight" and "moisture" with a flurry of numbers to follow...which means nothing to anyone else unless they are also a farmer, or farmer's wife...or in my case, farmer's daughter.
My dad sent me this picture from harvest this year.
Harvest time was always one of my most favorite times growing up on the farm.  It was dusty and dirty and hot and sweaty (getting jealous, now, aren't you?) and full of heritage and traditions and ridiculously good cobblers.  Before I was old enough to help out in the field, I would help (well, I'm not sure how much help I actually was) my mother in the kitchen.  The "behind the scenes" gig to harvest time is keeping the men happy, healthy, and well-fed, which is exclusively run out of a busy and delicious kitchen.  My mother had this down to a perfect science.  She had the washcloths, soap, and water bucket for the "cleaning station", individually wrapped utensils and cups for each worker, and a multiple-course meal that would have made Martha Stewart cringe if she knew it were being served out the back hutch of a minivan instead of a properly decorated table, because it was just that good.  To top it off, my Grammy would send along either a giant fruit cobbler or a massive meringue pie that would last all of two seconds on each little plate that a piece was served on.  (Guaranteed Grammy is serving up those pies in heaven right now, they were so delicious I can't imagine eternity without them.)

As soon as I could drive and reach the pedals in a truck...I was out in the field.  The summers of my Sophomore and Junior year in high school, I drove truck for wheat harvest.  I'm not really sure why my parents thought a small, inexperienced teenage girl driving a massive vehicle carrying thousands of dollars worth of grain would be a good summer job...but, I was stubborn and wanted a job, so I'm certain in the end it was me that convinced them to hand over the keys.  Nevertheless, I took years of delight in the fact that I could put "truck driver" on my resume, just for the sake of seeing the look on future employer's faces.  Worth it.

And the memories made it all worthwhile as well.  Remember, these will be the stories I pass on to my girls!  The stories of sitting in a hot, un-air-conditioned truck, waiting on the combines to make their rounds and fill up my bed.  Stories that start out "...in the days before internet or iPhones or eReaders..."  Stories that will surely bore them to tears until they can look back and appreciate it for what it is:  family history.

Like, when my cousin David and I were little and used to take turns sitting in the cab with our dads, pretending/learning to drive the combine.  Steadying that giant wheel to cut the straightest path possible (think of the most humongous lawn mower you can imagine) and then turn-turn-turn-turn-turn-turn, quickly with all your might, as if you were in charge of a massive bus, literally collecting money in the back.  And then, once we had taken our turns, we would go play in the grain in the back of the truck.  It was like a giant sandbox, full of filthy grain that we would dig our toes into and then nibble on a kernel and then pretend there was an evil shark attack or monster worm or something trying to pull us under.  Oh, good times.

One summer, we had to cut over July 4th.  I remember being pretty bummed out that we couldn't go see the fireworks show in a "neighboring" town.  I knew most of my friends would be there, and I probably could have begged hard enough to get to go, but I knew it would do our family more good if we stayed put and finished the field for the night.  I remember how hot it was, how still and dry and dusty it felt to be out in the middle of a field, waiting for the next load to arrive.  Dusk was setting in and the sun was just below the horizon.  Lightning bugs were making neon polka-dots in the sky, and that's when I first saw it...just as the day turned to night, just at the brink of the horizon, tiny red and blue sparks broke through the darkness.  And I sat there, still...watching fireworks from twenty-seven miles away.  (Yes, Kansas really is that flat!)

Or, what about the time that I was driving the truck and all of a sudden it started to pour rain and hail on me.  No one was answering on my CB radio and I didn't know what to do.  I was on the highway with a truck FULL of grain - grain that needed to stay dry until it was safely in the elevator.  So, I pulled over on the side of the highway (this is the part where my mother starts thanking my angels) and jump out, and - having never done it before - I figured out how to yank down the giant metal arm that rolls out the cover over the top of the bed and keep the grain safe and dry - nearly knocking myself out in the process, and getting pummeled by hail all the while.  Whew!

Or...the time that I was pulling onto the scale at the Co-Op, and with such a big truck (here comes my disclaimer) there is only about a five inch clearance on either side to fit on the scale...not exactly easy for a new driver to do.  I had to realign the truck, and in doing so...KABLAMMO!  I took out an entire cement post with me.  Yup, I fully knocked over an entirely concrete post.  Whoopsie!  That was a fun call to make over the CB to my dad.  The guy at the Co-Op didn't offer me any more lollipops when I drove through the rest of that summer.

Or...the summer I decided to write 100 poems.  True story!  Remember, no iPhones!  I had to pass the time somehow, right?  So, I set a goal and wrote a total of 100 poems in course of that harvest (let's also clarify that harvest, while intense, only lasts about 2-3 weeks of the summer).  I'm sure I'll share some of these with you at some point (we'll see how in demand they become, wink) - oh yes, I still have them - but, I'll warn you now that most of them are filled with the angst and foreboding of an emotional seventeen year old.  In other words - gems!  Ha.

These days, when I hear that harvest has started at home, I feel the distance.  My heart feels left out of the loop.  This probably seems crazy to my family back home, because it's like saying I'm missing out on two of the busiest, longest-working-hours, most stressful events of the year.  I know, I know, I have the luxury of looking at it with rose-colored-nostalgia goggles now.  I'm not sitting here covered in sweat and dirt and mosquito bites (I don't miss that).  I'm not wondering if I'll get rained out of work tomorrow or if hail will destroy half a year's salary in one night.  I'm not praying for a better yield day after day (well, not for myself, anyway).  Harvest is insane in a word.  Messy, crazy, dirty...and full of hope and mystery and promise.  Each generation that takes part in wheat harvest, each farmer putting more and more food on the tables for millions of families...is more than just a truck full of grain.  I look back on those days and realize I was hauling memories in the back of that truck.  I was carrying heritage with each trip to the Co-Op.  I was delivering yet another year of promises to the next generation.

I grew up on a farm that has been in our family for more than a century.  I'm pretty sure at the time, when I was a teenager and just trying to earn a buck, sweaty and counting the mosquito bites on my legs, I had no idea I would be treasuring these memories and wanting to tell my girls tales of harvest time later in my life.  I have a dozen memories attached to every story I can remember.  Memories of tastes (dirt, mostly), sounds, smells, and the feelings like the scratchy sensation against my shins that only a field of wheat can create.  Hopefully, someday my girls can experience the beauty and business of wheat harvest on the farm.  Hopefully they will appreciate the fact that someone, somewhere, spent time praying over and cutting that crop so that they can have toast in the morning.  And hopefully, eventually, they will tell their daughters stories of their crazy grandmother who ran over the concrete post at the Co-Op that one time.

What memories are you planting for your kids right now?  What stories are you harvesting from your life and hoping to pass on?

1 comment:

  1. Wow... Neon polka dots, huge clouds of dust, train whistles and intercom convos, smiling dirt smeared faces, I think I need to bake a pie!


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