They showed up, whenever asked, to help with the dirty jobs that a dairy farm demands. Through all the chores and challenges, those fellows became like big brothers to us.
In my earliest memory, a neighbor named Greg was our first big brother, moving in with us to complete his senior year of high school as his family moved north.
He was kind, fun, and looked especially handsome driving his sharp Ford Falcon. The oldest of his family, he had a bunch of younger sisters, so he already knew the role of big brother well.
After Greg moved on, the Hoover boys provided the extra muscle required to keep a dairy and crop farm rolling along. Joe often helped work ground, move machinery, and he could throw bales of hay like they were dish rags. He seemed 8 feet tall to me, and he was a basketball stand-out at our high school.
When the hay crop was going gang-busters in the heart of summer, Joe brought his younger brothers Dave and Stan.
This was prior to kicker balers, so loading wagons in the field took muscle.
We were in the barn unloading those neatly-stacked hay wagons at a steady pace, trying to set time records. The three brothers were classmates to my big sisters, and their father and ours had been classmates as well.
Two younger sisters were matched up in age with me and my younger brother, and in those years it felt as though we were family.
Mornings before the hay was dry enough to bale, we helped get the table set, potatoes peeled, sweet corn husked, all steps toward those big meals my mom whipped up. And boy, could those boys make an incredible amount of food disappear.
Three other brothers often called to help were the Stake boys: Tom, Ted and Jeff, also classmates of my sisters. My dad rented farm ground from the Stakes, and jokingly asked if the boys were thrown in as hired labor.
They each said they were willing, so when summer work reached an incredible peak, we might have an extra family of boys thrown in to the mix.
It was great having a bunch of jovial big brothers, each trying to out-work the other.
Around the table
Good-natured jabs rolled freely at the round dinner table, sometimes eating in two shifts. “Don’t let Joe have any strawberry shortcake — he’s allergic!” Followed by laughter and Joe’s quiet protest.
After the Hoovers and the Stakes moved on to young adulthood, Jim Funk and Paul Fulk became my brothers. These guys, too, excelled at ornery banter.
Many times, I would be paired with one of them in the milking parlor both morning and evening. When we went in to the house for breakfast, my mother would ask how many pancakes or eggs we wanted.
Paul often had a silly response, but the one I remember best is, “I believe I’ll have 31⁄2 eggs this morning….and she can have the other half of that last one you crack.”
John Cook and his brother Paul were called in to service about the time Jim, Paul and I were finishing up our tour of duty as dairy farm kids.
Notes in the barn
We posted notes to each other in a fold-down desktop in the milking parlor. I managed to save one spiral notebook, and it makes me laugh each time I run across it.
“Hey, #248 needs a trip down memory lane, cause she forgot already she’s not supposed to kick me. She tried to mess up this pretty face,” is the note left in Paul’s handwriting.
A quickly scrawled response reads, “You were never headed for Hollywood. #248 is trying to improve that face.”
Friends were always asking why one of us didn’t date one of those great guys. Our answer was that they were brothers to us.
No doubt about it, we all were young and didn’t recognize the positives. But all these years later, if I need help, I always know I can call on any one of those big brothers.
It might seem a wild family tree with branches going every which way, but it is rooted in the dirt of hard work, fun memories and the shared generations of a small farming community. My sister and I agree: We wouldn’t trade it for anything.
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