Dad was an expert at thinking up work for kids. It kept us so busy, we had little time to think of mischief. One winter, a field of corn went unharvested. Instead, we did it by hand, picking ears of corn like we lived in a third world country.
I liked the barn, because the animals kept things toasty warm. Plus I throwing bales of hay and straw around keeps a body revved up; all except my fingers and toes. I sure knew what “stings the toes, and bites the nose” was all about. Or was that “Stings the nose, and bites the toes”? Either way, my toes and fingers hurt from the cold. Especially the year we got the corn in by hand.
Dad didn’t tell me why no combine came that year to get the corn in. Maybe he was working too much overtime; maybe Dad forgot about the cornfield; maybe Mr. T’s combine broke down; or maybe Mr. T had the flu. We didn’t have a combine of our own, so Dad depended on borrowing.
Anyways, every night after supper, Deanna and Bonita and Vickie and me and Dad and any Little Kid big enough to walk went out to the field and picked corn by hand.
It was dark, which made the rustling of the corn leaves all dry and brittle seem louder than usual. Teacher told me that blind people could hear better because sight distracted them from using our other senses. Maybe that’s true, ’cause I never heard the snow crunch near as loud in the daytime as I did at night, so maybe Teacher knew what she was talking about. Those corn husks sure did rustle like something spooky was hiding out there ready to take us all in one gulp; maybe a headless horseman, or a swamp monster that liked to live in snowy weather.
Dad got a fireman’s line going, with a Little Kid up front with him, holding a flashlight. “Hiiey-yump! Let’s go! Let’s go! Hiiiey-yump!”
I was the strongest of the Big Kids. Heck I was stronger than most of the kids in my grade at school. I knew that ’cause we did arm wrestling at recess and I could beat almost everyone, except Jeannie. She had a bunch of big brothers, so she was tougher than anyone. Daylene was pretty strong too, and she lived in town. Most town kids were kinda weaklings, but not Daylene. She was strong. Maybe because she was the oldest and had lots of chores like me. Jeannie had chores too, she was in 4-H just like me, only she had a beef steer, and I had a dairy cow. Anyways, my corn-picking job was to hike an empty pail up to the front of the line where Dad was, then go to the back where I picked up filled pails. I emptied the filled pail into the trailer hooked up to the tractor.
Dad made up songs. I tell you, Dad was an awful singer; he and he couldn’t even carry the tunes he made up. He was never in the band either.
“I can play,” he said. “I play the radio.”
Good thing for that, I was thinking, but I never said it, ’cause I already learned it was easy to hurt Dad’s feelings, even if he seemed like he never cried in his whole life.
Every day after school, as part of chores, Bonita and I rolled the kernels of corn off the cobs we picked the night before. Shelling the first row was the hardest, then it got easier, ’cause there was a space to push against. Round and round I pushed the rows of corn off the cob with my thumbs, just like eating corn-on-the cob, only this corn was dry as a bone, and no good to eat except to cows and pigs. They loved it.
Dad showed me how he just rolled the cob in his palm and all the corn flew off lickety-split. That hardly ever worked for me, ’cause my hands were way smaller than his; he could circle the whole cob in one hand. My hands got all blistered and on top of that, all that rubbing put holes in my mittens. That’s how Mom got put to work, extra that winter.
Mom was a mitten-knitting maniac in wintertime. Four tinsy needles, no pattern, and round and round she went with first a ribbing stitch, than a stockinette; she dropped just the right number of stitches onto a horse-blanket pin to get picked up later for the thumb, then round and round she went again. She could go over homework, watch TV, nurse a baby, all with those needles in her hands. I bet she could make supper and knit if she wanted to. I loved her variegated yarn. For one thing, I loved saying that word and for another thing, I loved the way all that multicolored yarn knitted up into a tweedy looking mitten. I loved most knowing what that word meant, ’cause I loved words.
Mom never used a pattern, she just used us kids: every so often she stopped and slipped a mitten over one of our hands for measurement. She might be making the mitten for someone other than me when she slipped it past my fingers, but I could always hope. The year we got all that corn shelled by ourselves was a busy year for mitten-making on account of rubbing holes in our mittens against that hard old corn.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s why Dad brought home the “magic machine.” It wasn’t really a machine, but it was magic to Bonita and me, and that’s no exaggeration. We thought we were in heaven. We could get a dozen or more cobs done in no time flat with that thing. Bonita put the cob in and I cranked and the corn just came a-shooting out the spout. When I got tired of cranking, we switched places. No more holes, no more blistered thumbs and no more stingy cold fingers and toes.
What we used was like the one is this video. I think the one Dad brought home was like this one before it got refurbished.
Hot dog! That was the berries for sure.
When I think of the ‘good-old-days,’ I remember how hard some of those old chores were. Somehow, most of it seemed like fun, even back then. Still, I’m happy my outdoor winter chores are limited to snow-shoveling. No more barn-chores, or corn shelling. One thing I do wish I could get away with: Mom used to measure a piece of string and fasten it to each of my mittens. They just stayed in my coat sleeves all winter long, like a friendly hand to hold. I’m forever losing or forgetting my gloves. Perhaps some fashion designer in Paris will put that on next year’s runway. I’m positive that would be a hit.