October brings bittersweet memories


“If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story.” — Orson Welles


Farm and Dairy Columnist

The steel gray skies of autumn have most definitely arrived with the turn of the October calendar. The once-green fields of endless soybeans of early September slowly turned golden, and now are harvested.

This morning I watched a massive flock of geese gather on the newly-bare field and listened to their endless chatter. It is a reminder that another year is marching on.

Harvest time

When October arrived on my childhood farm, we would clamor to help with the corn harvest. It was a second-place finish for our dad’s favorite time of year, because he loved spring planting with such a happy passion.

He worked hard year-round, milking cows, running his sows through what was then a busy farrow-to-finish operation. By today’s standards, it would be considered a small set up, but it was endless, and managed to accomplish exactly what he had set out to do: when milk prices were down, hog prices might be up, and it all worked together to keep the farm running.

With the arrival of October, though, the focus turned toward combining and drying the crop he’d planted and worked on all through the growing season. I loved more than anything to be out helping with it all.

Hard work

My very earliest memory goes back to watching from a distance as Dad ran the old corn picker across the fields, bringing in ear corn. My sisters and I and helped unload it in to the old corn cribs. I remember his exhaustion from working in the heat of the open tractor, breathing in the corn dust, his face coal black at the end of a long day.

As a grade-school kid, it was a thrill to be invited to ride the first round in his new Gleaner combine, watching the dust fly as we worked our way across a field thick with standing corn. As the combine chewed up the stalks of corn, it fascinated me that each ear of corn was husked and shelled, the cobs spit out with the fodder.

Important job

I always wanted to be the one who ran the moisture tester for the first time, dropping a small handful of shelled corn in to the little gadget. “Oh, boy, that’s too high,” I remember him saying, and the combine would be taken to the machinery shed to wait a few days.

We had our own grain drying system, but he always had done some rough figuring ahead of time as to how much it would cost to dry down a crop. A few days later, we would try it again, and I was so anxious to see if the moisture reading had dropped. Sometimes it had dropped considerably, and I would feel as though I had somehow helped solve a big problem when I announced the new, lower moisture reading to him.

Later in my life, I enjoyed riding in the new, high-tech Gleaner, Dad watching the computerized dashboard as it figured the moisture content of the shelled corn, beating me out of my job, and even figuring the per-acre yield.

Next generation

For every cab tractor, and most definitely the Gleaner combine, Dad decided to purchase child car safety seats and had them securely mounted so that he could safely take a grandchild along. I’m not sure who enjoyed the arrangement more, the child or the grandfather. Always close at hand was a lunch box filled with junk food to make the day more enjoyable.

When my baby son was the lucky one in the car seat, I remember one day when I went to pick him up, he waved at me and said, “Go away, Mommy!”

I hold these memories dear, though each one carries the tang of bittersweet. Every year when October arrives, it brings with it a melancholy for all that once was and never again will be.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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