When combines and corn wagons gather in fields this time of year, I find myself fighting a melancholy that is difficult to define.
Harvesting his corn crop was perhaps my father’s greatest joy, and his heart was happy this time of year as he shelled load after load of brilliant yellow corn.
From the time I was old enough to help, I remember feeling pretty darn important as I got to run the moisture tester, which would determine just how much shelling we would be doing in a particular field.
“Nope, this is gonna cost too much to dry down. Let’s move to another field,” Dad would say when the numbers appeared on the tester screen.
The move itself proves to be a production, as any grain farmer can attest.
Help. It helped having kids who were old enough to drive, so one daughter could drive the pick-up truck which pulled the empty hopper wagons to the next field, while another could head on to the dairy barn for milking time.
In spite of all the hard work and the long days, I recall my father seeming like a kid on the eve of a great holiday. “I don’t work at shelling corn – I play at shelling corn!” he was known to say. And he meant every word.
It is worth celebrating the fact that most of his grandchildren hold great memories of riding in the big Gleaner combine with my father. He had a special corner set up inside that cab, complete with a car safety seat and seat belt, just for his grandchildren.
He made sure there were plenty of goodies to share in his lunch bucket each morning before he set out, just in case a grandchild showed up for an afternoon ride around the big corn field.
Dad was known to even place a phone call to each of his four daughters in the early morning, just to say which farm and which particular field he would be working in so that he could be found without a hitch.
Party. It was like hosting a party that he didn’t want us to miss. When my father died in the late summer of 1995 at 63, we understandably were not ready to let him go.
This was a man who adored his family, made each one of us feel special and beloved, a man whose enthusiasm for life lit up the world in a way that is impossible to explain in simple words.
“How is my favorite daughter this morning?” he would ask, and we smiled, knowing that he had said the very same thing to each of our sisters.
One of my biggest regrets of his passing so young was my own two children have only the vaguest of memories of spending fun days with him. It is perhaps this, most of all, which brings me such melancholy this time of year.
Memories. I miss the early-morning phone calls, the smile that would greet us at the edge of a partially-harvested field, his often-repeated statement to his grandchildren that went like this: “Tell Mom, ‘See ya in 30 days! We’ve got work to do!'” and the great laughter that followed when the little one tried to repeat this back.
I miss that one big phone call which said, “We finished all the corn today. Let’s go out to eat to celebrate! I’m buying, so make sure everybody is hungry!”
The laughter and the joy – so much of it – seemed to revolve around the planting and the harvesting, for my dear dad was a farmer to the core of his soul.
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