FOOD & FUEL
A morning thunderstorm ripped through my rural farmette recently and in its wake I found a front yard peppered with green walnuts, a sky bluer than the Pacific and memories as warm as the August afternoon that threatened.
On the big dairy farm of my youth, everyone – my two older brothers and I, my father, the hired men – spent a minute or two every August day praying for rain. Dad wanted a bountiful harvest; the hired men, Rich, David and I wanted to avoid baling hay.
Well, David and I did, at least, because we were always ready to trade our cows-hay-cows grind for a less sweaty cows-goofing off-cows day. Goofing off on a German Lutheran dairy farm, of course, usually meant lighter work, never goofing off.
Like the rainy August morning Dad sent a hired man and his Uncle Honey to the farm shop to fix several flat tires that had accumulated.
Knowing the magnificent mayhem Uncle Honey could create, David and I followed because the key ingredients for perfect storm were about to collide: powerful farm tools, a slow-witted hired man and the master of farm destruction, our great uncle Honey.
The first tire, a hay wagon one, went well. Honey, after all, could level a mountain with 125 lbs. of air pressure and a big hammer so, after a little cussing by the hired man, the tire-with a loud “pop!” – seated into the bead of wheel.
Tire two, however, became a struggle. The trouble was that impatient Honey filled the tube before the hired man had placed it completely in the tire. The tube then pinched, requiring Honey to deflate it and begin anew.
Frustrated, Honey finally ordered the hired man to stick his thumbs between the tire and the rim to prevent the tube from pinching. And, to our astonishment – David and I knew better and we were just kids – the hired man did as told. Honey then re-inflated the tube.
POP! the tire seated and a millisecond later the hired man leapt to his feet with an Oliver 77’s front wheel, tire and tube dangling from his thumbs.
“My gawd,” he screamed when his lungs finally grabbed enough air to vibrate a vocal cord, “ya kilt my thumbs!”
Honey, who never ‘kilt” anything larger than 7-ounce Baby Budweiser, calmly told the hired man to hold the tire still so he could remove the valve stem core to deflate the tire. As he did, David and I ran.
A moment later, the hired man, cradling his thumbs in a prayerful pose, passed us in a hot trot. Half-minute later he drove off in his boat-sized Buick, thumbs upright on the steering wheel. David, Honey, Dad, I – no one really – ever saw him again.
Other rainy August days Dad sometimes gathered Rich and his single-shot .410, David and his single-shot .20 gauge, and me with my single-shot .22, for steamy, silent squirrel hunts in a neighbor’s woods.
Since I was the youngest, I often paired up with Dad to tramp the oak and hickory hills in search acorns and hickory nuts that the squirrels “were cutting on.” When we found such sign, we’d lean against a nearby tree to wait supper.
If a squirrel did appear, the first shot was mine. The .22’s clean, little “crack!” was often followed (instantly, in fact) by the bark of Dad’s 12-gauge cannon. “We got ‘im,” Dad would then say. We?
Once, Dad unshouldered his shotgun after its bead fell on a tiny gray squirrel. “More meat on my thumb than that squirrel,” he explained.
Of course there was; he never fixed tires with Honey.
Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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