Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Labor Day, 2018

To be truthful, I'm not sure she ever picked corn herself back then. She remembers sitting up on the wagon and hearing the thrown cobs banging off the side, remembers the horses going up the field pretty much on their own as Ma and Pa picked ears and flung 'em off the bangboard. Remembers, she says, how the sharp edges of a million corn leaves could cut up your arm.

She remembers bringing a load home at night, in the darkness. She was just a girl back then, but she remembers one winter when they finished up on New Years Day. Remembers coming into the yard and tending the horses first, unhitching them from the wagon, following them over towards the barn, remembers the way they'd roll around in the dust of the barnyard or pasture, remembers hanging up halters just so that the next day, when, once again, you went back to work in the darkness--that way it didn't take you half the morning to untangle them.

All of that she remembers in a memoir she wrote of her life on a farm, a childhood that, despite the sweat and dirt and manure comes off as, well, nostalgic because she delivers all her memories with a kind of homey gaiety. Handpicking corn was horribly hard work--that's what she wants her children to know. But it was noble, honorable. That's true too.

Still, she remembers that very first one-row picker as if it were a blessing straight from on high. That things freed her parents from having to spend most of the fall and half the winter trudging through the wet and the cold to get in what still clung to the stalks. Things moved faster with that miracle-worker. Finally, they could leave those stiff little gloves with hooks in the barn with the other tools mechanization made obsolete, part of a museum of farmyard chores left joyfully behind.

She remembers all of that as if those were the good old days, but she knows better than to say it. She's doing what most every old gent and his missus ends up doing in the face of changes they'd rather not make. She's telling those children that way back when, grandpa's life--and grandma's too--had dignity, at least more dignity than she has today, alone, over there waiting for death in the Home. 

She's bringing back what's no longer retrievable, an era no one hopes ever returns. On this rich loess earth, who really wants to pick forty acres of corn by hand? Nobody.

It's Labor Day, a holiday meant to celebrate work. And work needs to be celebrated. Sloth is right up there with the Seven Deadlies, and most all of us--the vast, vast majority--know at least something of the joy of a job well done, even those few who remember picking corn by hand.

The worst, she says, was going back to that full wagon after chores, after milking, after taking care of the horses. It was night, she says, but all that corn had to be shoveled off the wagon and into the bin. Hard, hard work. Shoulders ached.

That's what she remembers, and that's what she remembers fondly, not because it was fun, not because it was a joy, but because finally, dead tired, you could flop out on your bed, lay yourself down, and fall to sleep in a flash because the job got done

There's no other way to describe it, I guess, even though, she remembers, you start over, the whole back-breaking task again the next day, and it's not over until it's over. You're back at it before the sun rises.

And when you remember all that work now, so many years later, it is sort of precious, the whole operation, and it is, truly, what Labor Day is all about. That's why you celebrate. 

That's what she'd say, and I think she'd probably be right.


Cornie said...

Late fall, 1955 or 56. I remember helping Dad pick corn on Saturdays. He did two rows and kept three ears in the air almost all the time. That was the sign of a good farmer. As a 5 or 6 year old kid, I had a hard time using that big glove with the metal hook for ripping the covers off the ears; so I only did an ear now and then and made sure I stayed out of Dad's way. Dad found a used one-row corn picker on a farm auction the next year.

Papa88 said...

I remember corn as a boy about 1937 or so on my uncle's Minnesota farm for the summers most tables for meals had piles of steaming buttery "field corn" or sweet corn. We all listened to the radio dramas and Cedric Adams, uncle and aunt listened at night and turned off the lights and went to bed when He signed off at 10. Story goes that airline pilots knew when it was 10 watching the lights of off. Cedric Adams a much admired radio star in those days. Would come to the county fairs all over that state. Oh well, we were happy and didn't hate in those days like today.