The Food on the Table and the Folks Gathered Round
The din of the potatoes thumping into the wagon sounded like the rumbling of distant thunder. We worked fast, picking up the plump potatoes as they danced out of the ground behind the walking plow. Dad steered the big Belgian workhorse back and forth, back and forth, tilling up the furrows. The number of potatoes he unearthed was amazing. We children followed behind, snatching them up and filling our buckets. Then we dumped them into the wagon. Bump! Bump! Thump! The sound was very satisfying.
“Mom! Is this one too small?” Bennie held up a tiny potato. Mom glanced at it and nodded. Bennie reared and threw the potato as far as he could into the cornfield.
I quickly selected the smallest potato I could find. “What about this one?”
Mom said, “That one’s too small as well.”
I hurled it and grinned at Bennie. “Mine went farther than yours. Much farther.”
Bennie hunted for another small potato. “Ok, boys,” Mom said. “We’re gathering potatoes, not throwing them away. Get back to it.”
Two adults and seven children can harvest a half-acre potato field in a hurry. After Dad finished plowing them up, he tied the horse to the fence and helped gather the last two rows. We fairly ran along, seeing who could fill their bucket the fastest. As twilight descended upon us, Bennie dumped the last bucket into the wagon. Dad took off his straw hat and wiped the sweat off his brow. “Our best crop ever!” He said. The wagon was almost full.
My brother David led another horse out of the barn, and Dad hitched up the team. “Do you want to drive?” He asked me. I felt (and looked) proud as a rooster, sitting on his lap, and guiding the horses in the lane. We parked the wagon in front of the house. Now we had to shuttle all the potatoes into the cellar and fill the potato bin.
Potatoes weren’t the only food we raised on our farm. In the hazy days of August, we husked dozens of ears of sweet corn. We sat at the picnic table in the shade of the huge pine tree in the backyard. The mountain of corn waiting to be husked looked formidable. But us four oldest children could work fast. The husks piled up in the wheelbarrow. The juicy, yellow ears went into pails filled with water. Mom bustled to and from the house, taking the husked corn inside to be cut off the cob.
We had a little game we played as we worked. One of us would think of a person, another an action, another a place, and the last a reason. Then we’d say it out loud to hear the ridiculous result. Phrases came forth such as, “Mom laughed uncontrollably at church because she didn’t have time to weed the garden”, or “Cousin Allen fell down the steps in California because he was sad.” We roared with laughter again and again, and the day flew past. Suddenly the mountain of corn was gone.
We also grew watermelons and pumpkins, peas and beans, strawberries and raspberries. And in the old chicken house, we raised livestock.
Tending the livestock
Dad bought baby turkeys at the local auction, and we raised them from delicate chicks to big, hulking adults. I spent hours in the chicken house, watching the turkeys strut. The gobblers were fascinating. They raised their elegant tails, and looked me right in the eye, daring me to come into their pen. When I made a sudden movement, their gobbles exploded instinctively, reverberating against the tin roof.
One crisp, autumn morning, we butchered the turkeys. Like everything we did, it took the entire family. My job was to help Mom wash the meat. I couldn’t believe the size of the drumsticks.
Another even bigger butchering event was when we did beef. We had raised a Holstein steer for this. After spending the summer in the pasture, the steer was butchered once cold weather arrived and the grass turned brown. This took more than just my family. My cousins came to help. Mom’s brother brought his family, and it took all day to process the meat. We made steaks, chunks, and hamburgers.
Thankful for family
One morning when I entered the kitchen, Mom told me, “Today is a special day. It’s Thanksgiving!” Our cousins who had helped with the beef were coming for lunch.
We made the table bigger that day. And we all sat around it, ready to enjoy the feast. I gaped at the vast amount of food that was waiting to be devoured. There were dinner rolls, slathered with butter. There were steaming mashed potatoes, peas, and corn. There was the turkey, roasted to perfection. There were hamburgers and there was liver. There was watermelon and date pudding. There were pumpkin, raspberry, and strawberry pies.
We ate, visited, and enjoyed ourselves. We knew the food, and we knew each other. Thanksgiving. A time to be thankful for the blessings God has bestowed on us. A time to be thankful for the little things. A time to be thankful for food, family, faith, and friends.