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home : columnists : columnists May 24, 2016

5/15/2014 10:40:00 AM
Gray images of the past

by Pete Frettem



Every time I go through the parking lot south of Althoff's garage I wonder how many people are aware of what those ghostly, gray images of the past represent.

In the summer months of the 50s I had the opportunity to be part of a threshing crew. By then the gentle chuffa chuffa of the steam tractor had been replaced by the monotonous growl of a four cylinder engine. The dapple gray and black teams of horses had been put out to pasture and were replaced by the red, green, yellow, orange and gray iron ponies.

Each morning started extra early. Cows had to be milked and put out to pasture. Breakfast was finished, then neighbors met at the designated farm. Wagons were stacked with bundles placed just so, then across the field to the waiting threshing machine.

The machine's giant tongue eagerly awaited each bundle of grain. It swallowed and gulped, then snorted and blew the straw onto one pile away from the chaff. The plump kernels of grain dumped out the side into a truck which then hauled the prize to the safety of a waiting granary.

Along the way there had been friendly contests to see who could bring in the biggest load. The oldest men shook their heads and grumbled, then hee-hawed when the biggest load rocked and tipped and spread its bounty on the ground and had to be loaded again. Occasionally, one wagon would have lots of trouble unloading. Upon closer inspection it was found that some of the bundles had mysteriously tied themselves to the side of the wagon.

Then it was noon. The kitchen table was piled high and extra high. The word was, if you're gonna work then you gotta eat! And eat we did. Everyday was a feast of fresh vegetables of various colors, meats, breads, pie and milk; and when seconds were generously heaped on your plate you were expected to clean it up. It was like a Grandpa's Garage fish fry everyday of the week. Then came the dreaded words, hit it! Move! and we did.

Back to the field where each straw and each plump seed of grain was touched by a human hand. Hands were sore, muscles ached and chaff and dust filled nostrils and blurred eyes, but no one seemed to notice. The comradery of neighbor helping neighbor had blocked out the minor aches and pains of constant physical exertion. There was always time for pranks and games among friends. At least one farm had to have a tree full of juicy green apples on the fence line just waiting for a young hand to pick them. Then the night would be spent praying for rain so you wouldn't have to work the next day.

The big, fluffy piles of straw would often become the fluff mattress for young cattle and the top of the pile would be home for a hundred English sparrows.

This wasn't just the harvest of grain. It was Christmas. We had been given the gift of nature's bounty. The gift of comradery of neighbors helping neighbors. It was New Year's Eve. The celebration of the gift of sustenance for man and cattle to carry us through another year.

It was Thanksgiving. The thanks for nature's bounty. The thanks for friendship of neighbors helping neighbors. The thanks for a generous feast. Every day threshing was Christmas, New Year's and Thanksgiving all at the same time for two or three weeks.

Then in 1960 the combine came. The granary got full, eyes blurred with dust and nostrils still filled with chaff. The comradery of many had been replaced by the determination of a few. The noon table was empty. The green apples still hung on the tree. The cattle had lost their fluffy mattress to lie on, and the English sparrows had no home of many rooms - progress had arrived.

If you happen to sit in the parking lot and stare at the gray, ghostly images too long, you may see a tear form in the eye of one, and if you look real close you may catch the wink of an eye on another.

Well, now you know!





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