Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
"You can take the boy from the farm but you can't take the farm from the boy" certainly applied to Dad. No matter where we lived, Dad had at least a couple acres, a cow or two, and a whole gaggle of chickens. (Or is that for geese?) Now farming isn't transmitted in the genes; it comes with hands-on living. I don't claim that a year with some Kimball farm experience put permanent dirt under my fingernails, but I do look back fifty years with the fondest of memories from the farm. Actually, two farms: Grandpa Lafe Stanley's and Uncle Merton Eaton's. There I grew in courage to reach under a clucking hen to steel her eggs. I firmly grasped the milk bottle with its massive nipple as abandoned lambs pushed and jerked on the substitute. Michael almost choked to death on a mouthful of powdered milk that Merton kept to mix for the calves. Sunday afternoon found us fishing for sunnies off the rotting dock at the pond. O.K., I was a kid: I also shot out 14 windows around Grandpa's farm with my B-B gun. (He complained about the repairs in one of the very few letters he ever sent to us in Africa.) I even learned one of those safety lessons that seldom actually take. Merton scared me with stories of those who failed to learn: Never go under a belt running off a power take off. So sharp is my memory of plucking purple plums from behind the granary as juice streamed down our chins onto logo-less white T-shirts, that even today, when I bite into a plum and smell the sweet aroma, I am immediately transported back behind the granary. We rose early (Why must farmers get up so early in the morning?) to pick gunny sacks full of sweet corn to deliver to the St. Cloud supermarket for same-day-fresh sale. Grandpa's farming emphasis changed over time, but it always included chickens. Chickens were upstairs in the barn where the air was barely breathable. (The B-B holes in the windows could only have helped the poor birds.) Laying hens were in the hen house across the lawn. And a thousand free-ranging young pullets surrounded three army-surplus Quonset huts out beyond the plum trees. I liked them most, as I got to drive the tractor pulling a sled, or even the pickup, taking fresh water and feed to the huts, preferably without running over any feathered friends. We hauled the eggs in wire pails with wood handles back to the house, always in the side door, to the far end of the kitchen. There we placed them on the old wood-burning stove. The stove was a remnant, no longer used for cooking. I don't know if it remained for nostalgic reasons, or just from the thought of carrying the oversized, overweight, cast iron monster out. Between pails were two or three sanding blocks. As the day faded, I would occasionally sit with Grandpa as we used the sanding blocks to strip away any dried droppings or clinging straw. Eggs found in the yard had to be checked for freshness by trying to float them in water. I recall watching Grandpa demonstrate how to "candle" eggs, checking to see if a brood hen had been trying to incubate them, though I confess I can't really recall the process. Fresh, clean eggs were then put into the large boxes kept in the cool basement. I believe each box held 40 dozen, two and half dozen to each layer on each side of the box. Every couple days someone arrived to carry off the filled boxes and leave empties in their place. Great memories surround my opportunity to drive, mainly the tractors, but also Grandpa's rusty old 1950 (or thereabouts) Studebaker pickup. Grandpa first let me sit on his lap and steer, then let me work the long floor-mounted gear lever as he pushed in the clutch. Soon, I was driving around the farm yard, such as carting that feed to chickens at the Quonset huts. I really didn't need to change gears much for that, an advantage, as I really couldn't push down the clutch and look out of the windshield at the same time. (Mom refused to even listen to the stories.) Grandpa had two ancient Minneapolis Molines, with hand-clutches, just long steel bars that one pulled on to engage and pushed forward to disengage. Merton, on the other hand, had a fairly new Allis-Chalmers, with a foot clutch, and a matching baler that kicked out round bales-not the large kind popular today, but about the same size as the common square ones. I was playing at driving in the machine shed one day when I was stung by a bumble bee. That kind of thing made me feel like a child. But my skills could also make me feel pretty grown up, as when Bryce Thiel asked me if I would come help him on his hobby farm one day in the summer. It would speed things up considerably if he could just walk along and hoist bales onto the wagon without mounting and dismounting the tractor to move it ahead each thirty feet. I quickly mastered the little blue and silver Ford. We were an efficient team, and at the end of the day when he dropped me off at home, he pulled out his wallet and gave me a crisp five dollar bill. Though I hadn't expected to be paid, I was ecstatic to claim the first real money I really earned for real employment. (Dollars from dads and grandpas don't count.) I felt very grown up indeed. * * * * * Thank you for visiting our exhibit booth during Kimball's sixth annual Community and Business Expo March 28. And the door prize winners are Sue Gohman-keepsake trivet; Robyn Frank-keepsake cups; Shannon Dahl-Maine Prairie History; Pete Axford-keepsake history map; Colleen Mackereth and Alice Scheeler-keepsake note cards; Chuck Sterling-membership; Liz Karvonen-crystal jar. Congratulations to you all. Mark your calendars: April 28-The Greatest Generation-World War II with guest speaker Professor Lloyd Petersen from the University of Minnesota. More details with our April 23 column. This program has never been featured here. And more in June, August, September, October, and November. Always check this column. The City Hall project of restoration continues. All of the above, is the heartbeat of what we do. Join us. Write or call the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball MN 55353; (320) 398-5743 or 398-5250. * * * * * Treasure the history of you. This society is supported by people just like you, won't you join our team and become a member too? You need not attend every event to be a member. The price is right. And thank all of you for renewing membership for 2009. How about sharing your history for this column, or simply for the archives of the growing classic collection? Or for permanent records you can leave here as your legacy? If you'd like to write to us or call us, we'd sure love to hear from you.