FOOD & FUEL
Yes, of course, June is Dairy Month. And National Ice Tea Month, National Candy Month, National Soul Food Month, National Smile Month and National Turkey Lovers Month.
With 100 or so Holsteins on the farm of my youth, however, each year, month, week and day started and ended with dairy so June by any other name – National Rose Month, National Rivers Month, National Accordion Awareness Month – was still June.
In fact, the month’s one, non-black and white feature back then was cultivating. June was cultivating month on our farm. First, the corn was carefully weeded, tilled and hilled, then the beans, then the corn again.
We called that second corn cultivation laying-by, as in “We laid-by the corn this week.” That meant the year’s tillage for that crop was done.
I don’t know where the term originated, but I do know two things about laying-by corn. I mean, it never meant the weeds laid down; Dad always followed the last cultivator pass with a 2,4-D soaking a week or so later.
Second, we didn’t lay down either. No sooner had all the cultivating been completed and there was wheat to cut, straw to make and, oftentimes during straw season, a cutting of sweet-smelling alfalfa to sweat and swear over, also.
All these tasks had two common elements: mostly Oliver equipment and always my Great-Uncle Honey – Dad’s quiet, easy-going uncle, a retired milkman from town, was king of the cultivator and prince of the seven-foot sickle mower.
More accurately, when Honey drove off the farm lot with either implement, weeds trembled, alfalfa wilted and every air-sucking man or beast within two miles worried that each breath could be their last.
It wasn’t that Honey was a spiteful man interested in inflicting pain. On the contrary, his nickname said it all. As a toddler, then as a youth, Honey was so sweet-natured (and, OK, a bit slow of foot) that his mother called him Honey-this and Honey-that. The name quickly replaced his given name, Lorenz.
Sweet, kind and quiet though he was, Honey’s biggest blind spot was mechanical skill. Outside of an ignition key, he lacked it entirely. Moreover, he didn’t care how machinery worked as long as it did – which, with Honey at the helm, usually wasn’t long.
For example, when Dad made the switch from four-row-wide to six-row-narrow equipment, our two ancient, mounted Oliver cultivators were replaced with one, six-row, rear-mounted Case cultivator. It was a thing a beauty. It all but screamed 1964.
Then Honey climbed aboard and headed to the cornfield. Two hours later, all had returned with Honey complaining to my father that the new cultivator “didn’t work right” because it “all of sudden” began to “plow out rows.”
Dad, long aware of his uncle’s machinery murdering skills, took one look down the cultivator’s big, six-by-six main beam and saw it had been bent. Badly.
My father hung his head. Not even one morning into its young life and our brand-new cultivator had been a target of the Honey Treatment. Honey had managed to “spring it,” that is, bend its central beam badly enough to cause one side – “Just three rows,” he noted in his quiet manner – to track into the corn rows and not alongside them.
I heard my father mumble something about his uncle “setting a personal record” for breaking a new piece of equipment. “Three hours; three hours,” he repeated.
Honey, true to his name, acted as though he didn’t hear Dad. He had that gift and it often came in handy, especially most Junes.
Maybe next June – remind me, will you? – I’ll tell you about Honey and sickle mowers.
Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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