Today I drove west on Highway 10 and saw the first harvested grainfield (for me). I know summer is getting very short. Later as I drove to I-94 on the southbound county 336, I saw three big combines in action, one following the other as they swathed and harvested the dead-ripe wheat in a big field north of I-94. The clouds of grain dust rose up into the air and I knew that allergy sufferers in the Valley are going to be sneezing, wheezing, coughing and wiping their watery eyes and noses for the next weeks to come as the harvest is completed. Of course, they are not done yet….grain harvest will be followed by the corn, soybeans and potato crops to be reaped with clouds of dust both from the soil and the crop itself. Sneeze City, for awhile yet.
Last night I looked out the window and saw a huge golden full moon and my first thought was "Harvest Moon!" Then I thought of the old song that goes like this: "Shine on, Shine on, Harvest Moon,up in the sky; I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July….Snow time ain’t no time to sit outdoors and spoon, so shine on, shine on Harvest Moon, for me and my gal".
The reason I say it is an OLD song is that the phrase…."sit outdoors and spoon" would not be understood by many of today’s young generation…they have no idea what "spooning" is. It is the old fashioned term for holding hands, kissing, hugging and all the innocent things of young love in years long gone by. The young people of today would laugh at "spooning" outside or any place…they are far more advanced when it comes to showing affection!!!! Enough said.
Harvest time also takes me back in time to when I was very young—a preschooler in fact. Harvest did not mean combining…it meant threshing with the old threshing machines that looked like prehistoric dinosaurs spitting out golden straw from one end and spewing the grain into truck boxes on the other end. It meant teams of horses hitched up to hayracks with sturdy men driving the horses around fields picking up "shocks" of grain with their pitchforks and filling the hayrack with the bundled grain, ready to be "gobbled up" by the gaping maw of the threshing machine. It was a noisy affair, the threshing machine. Gears and cogs groaned and creaked and the well-oiled thresher would do its job during harvest, powered by a tractor with long canvas belts running between the tractor and the thresher. The threshing machine was not an independent machine at all—you had to have the tractor to run it.
My mother and I would spend harvest time out at my Mom’s cousins’ farm where Mom would help Agnes cook huge meals twice a day; bake bread, cakes, pies and cookies in a wood-burning range in an incredibly hot kitchen; they would prepare two lunches for morning and afternoon, and haul it out to where ever the men were working. Agnes would fire up their old Ford sedan and over the fields we’d go, bouncing over the rough ground with my Mom holding the big white enamel coffee pot, wrapped in towels, between her feet to keep it from spilling the sweet smelling egg coffee all over the floor of the Ford. In back with me, were two huge dishpans covered with white dishtowels; one was full of sandwiches…meat, egg salad or peanut butter; the other was full of fresh-baked cookies or sometimes there was a fresh-baked chocolate cake with brown sugar frosting (no cake mixes in those days) also covered with a white dish towel. Having morning and afternoon lunch in the field with the sweating men who were covered with grain dust and field dirt was a highlight of each of my Harvest Days. When the men came to the farmhouse for "Dinner" (noon) and Supper (evening) there was a wash bowl laid out for them on a table under a leafy tree with towels and soap at the ready. The water would get so dirty you could not see through it and sometimes it was replaced with warm clean water from the big reservoir in the wood stove. The men would come to the table, damp and mostly cleanon their necks, faces and hands…some of them would have washed their hair in the wash bowl so their hair would be sticking up in a spiky manner. They would pass the plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, carrots, cole slaw or jello salad, fresh sliced bread or fresh hot buns slathered with butter and homemade jam or jelly, plates and bowls of homemade pickles…dills, sweets, watermelon or pickled beets. They would wash it all down with cold well water and more egg coffee, especially when the fresh apple pies were cut up for dessert. Sometimes the pie was pumpkin or a cherry or peach. Then the men would go outside and lie in the shade of the big tree for a noon nap. In about a half an hour, they would be up and climbing aboard their hayracks…the horses would have been fed and watered during the meal by ….someone… who took charge of the horses so they did not go hungry or thirsty either. You had to take good care of the horses or the harvest would come to a halt if they could not pull the hayracks back and forth to the threshing machine. At dusk I watched the procession of hayracks, teams and men leave the farmyard in the dusk—-going home to sleep off their exhaustion of the day after feeding and watering their horses again, taking off the harnesses and giving the horses a time to sleep the night also. Morning would bring the same routine…hitch up and drive to Jack’s farm to work on the harvest once again. Then later, the threshing rig would move on , with the men and the horses and hayrackcs to the next farm for more harvesting. Everyone helped each other harvest the grain in those days of fellowship and neighborliness. Good times, hard work… but good times of good food and honest work under the blazing sun of the harvest days.
I loved to stand in the grain truck and watch it fill up with oats or wheat or barley. One time one of my rubber boots came off and Cousin Jack found the boot and momentarily panicked thinking I was buried in the grain. Great relief to find me on the ground watching something else,but after that I was not allowed to stand in the grain truck and watch the golden grain pouring out of the spout on the threshing rig. I was, literally, "grounded".
Amazing what the sight of some combines rolling in a field of grain and the sight of a full Harvest Moon can bring back to memory. Soon the sunsets will be tinged with the grain dust in the air when Harvest is in full swing. The sunsets will be a brilliant red for a few days or weeks, and a member of my family will be miserable from the effects of the grain dust in the air.
Meanwhile I will be waiting for another Harvest Moon in September and later, the Hunter’sMoons in October and November. By then the fields will be stubble or chisel-plowed and the frost will shimmer on the cold nights in the white light of the full moon. It will bring memories of stories about Foxes Out On Chilly Nights baying at the Full Moon and making their way to a chicken house for Fox Mischief.
Full Moons can bring all sorts of memories and all sorts of imagination, especially if it comes on Halloween. I used to think I saw witches flying across the Full Moon then and the deliciousness of the pretense scared me silly. I still love to go out on Full Moon nights and watch the golden orb rise up above the horizon…first a red apparition that slowly changes to gold and finally to silver as the night advances. Now I am at a disadvantage…I fall asleep much too early to fully appreciate the Full Moon’s glory.