Yesterday I walked to the Village Hall to vote. I’ve had the blues lately. The walk filled my heart with joy. No, not because I was exercising my citizenship, although that does make me proud. Because my brain filled with the sights and sounds and especially the aromas of my childhood.
When I was a little girl, fall came with vivid sounds and colors and smells. And lots of work. Every season had work and the work always smelled different, but underneath it all, came the smell of the good earth. In fall work was dusty and musty and golden and frosty and filled with wind rustling everything it touched. Fall filled up my nose with burning leaves and rotting pumpkins and earthy potatoes dug from the ground. Even dried corn plucked from the stalks had that aroma of tortillas waiting to be fried.
One year the corn stayed unharvested. Dad worked too many hours at Ma Bell and he missed the combine trading time, or perhaps some other reason I never knew about prevented him from getting the corn in. Corn stalks became dry and brittle and the ears hung open like so many rows of loose teeth.
“We can do it,” Mom said.
“In my day, we didn’t have fancy combines,” Dad said, giving the dining room table a slap. Every big decision came down with a slap at the dining room table.
I already knew about Dad’s days, ‘cuz he smiled like he just brought home an A+ history paper when he showed us kids the old-timer farm equipment at the county fair. Of course Mr. and Mrs. T, who had a farm down Terry Lane, still used some of that old stuff. They were like people lost in time, wearing old-time trousers and farm dresses with aprons. When Dad was a kid farms had machines with long belts attached to generators, and blades so big they had two handles, so a farmer could swing it with both hands. It’s a wonder our nation could get fed at all with a breadbasket harvested with those antiques.
But then again, we didn’t even have those old tools and if we did, Mom would never let us use them. She was all the time worrying about one of us getting sucked up into the combine and made into pig feed before anyone noticed we went missing. That kind of stuff happened to some kid she knew, and she never ever forgot about it. She didn’t any kids with missing fingers or arms, and she sure didn’t want to pick one out of a combine. Those long belts and huge blades were probably way too dangerous with all kinds of places to snag clothes, or pinch off fingers or even cut off a foot or two.
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We had buckets and mittened hands. Yup. We harvested that whole field by hand.
Dad gave the Little Kids flashlights to hold and Big Kids buckets. He took a row, and I took a row, and everyone else got divided onto our teams. Of course Bonita was on my team. She was my best-friend-sister, so she had to be on my team even though sometimes she cried to be on Dad’s team cuz she wanted to be his favorite more than she wanted to be my best friend.
“Bucket Brigade!” Dad shouted, and off we went, picking corn as fast as we could and sending one bucket back to be dumped in the trailer. As a full bucket went back, an empty came forward. Sometimes the back kid ran forward with the empty, on account of passing was too slow. The corn stalks pulled at our feet and rustled like torn apart Christmas wrapping.
“Hi-yup!” Dad said, each time a new bucket got filled.
“Go!” I’d say in the row right beside him. I never got more than a few feet behind. Victory was close, I tasted it.
A race to the middle of the field and back again. I started out with frost crunching and nipping and wishing be somewhere warm. I stopped hot and thirsty and with my nose filled with corn cob dust. We laughed all the way to the house.
Beyond the field, yellow light smiled out of lace-covered windows. Home hit me square in the face when I opened the door; warm against cold skin and runny nose. Just in time for a big bowl of popcorn and “My Three Sons,” or “The Donna Reed Show.”
Everyone knows about leaves turning gold and red and orange in the fall. Cornstalks turn from green to amber, the gentle rustle turns more insistent. Snow is coming. Hurry. Batten down the hatches, bring in the stores, get ready for the cold. Fields lay barren and brown, except for winter wheats green leaves reaching for the sun, forever hopeful of the spring that promises to come.