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James R. Stout

The American Spirit

            When I was between the ages of about 8 and 11-years-old one of the highlights of the year was when I would spend a week during the summer at my grandparent’s farm. There were even a couple of years that I spent more than a week. I was finally at an age that I could be of some use to my grandfather in his various chores around the farm. By that time, he mainly raised cattle, but he also had a garden that was about 2 acres in size, and he grew corn for the cattle, usually about 30 acres as well as about 50 acres of hay. I wasn’t yet old enough to drive the tractor, but I could help in many other ways. I had a great time doing it. Sometimes it was almighty hot, and I got about as dirty as a boy could get, but I always felt like I had done something afterward.

            One of my favorite things to do was to help when it came time to harvest the corn. Grandpa couldn’t afford one of those big harvesters nor would it have made sense to have one. 30 acres sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the big farms that grew corn commercially. Grandpa had a machete and me. That was about all that was needed. We would start out on a row and Grandpa would cut the stalks off at about a foot off the ground. My job was to break off the ears of corn, load them into a bushel basket, and when the basket was full Grandpa would carry it over to the pick-up truck and dump it in the truck bed. We usually had two baskets going at a time. It wasn’t really hard work for me, and it saved Grandpa time. Once the bed of the truck was full, we would drive back to the barn, about 1.5 miles away, and Grandpa would use what we called the “corn scoop”, an oversized shovel, to transfer the corn to the crib. Before it was over with that crib would be filled to the brim.

            I don’t actually know if the type of corn that he grew and fed the cows was the same type that he grew in the garden, but I do know that we didn’t mix the two. When the corn was ripe in the garden, we just hand-picked it along with other ripe vegetables and such. One of the things that I enjoyed doing was using an old corn shucker that Grandpa had probably purchased in the 1920’s. It was very heavy, and Grandpa had it set-up on a big flat river rock under an oak tree behind the garage. I would feed the ears of corn into the top of the shucker and then while applying pressure to the ear of corn I would turn a big iron wheel with a handle which shucked the corn. I remember when creamed corn became popular after Green Giant had a successful advertising campaign, but creamed corn was something my grandmother had been making for years.

            Something else that I helped with was shelling peas. We would sit on the front porch in the late afternoon and hold a big bowl of pea shoots and snap them or slit them open to allow the peas to fall into the bowl. It depended on the kind of peas. They grew green peas, black-eyed peas, field peas, green beans, pinto beans, navy beans, lima beans, and I’m likely forgetting some. Grandma made homemade cornbread from the corn that they grew, and they had a wide variety of fruit jellies and jams that she canned. There were peach preserves, pear preserves, apricot preserves, fig preserves, mayhaw jelly and muscadine jelly from the wild grapes that grew in the area. Although at one time my grandmother churned butter, by the time I came along they were buying butter at the store. But most of the food served at their house was homegrown.

            I remember the wonderful meals that we had. There were two rules though. If you touched it, then it was yours, and if you put it on your plate, then you ate it all. My grandmother spent all of the morning cooking. There was always bacon, eggs, and biscuits for breakfast or sometimes flapjacks. They had raised hogs at one time, but by the 60’s they were only raising chickens and cows. So, the bacon came from the store. Everything else was from the farm. Fresh eggs, homemade biscuits, and canned jelly made for a mighty fine breakfast. After cleaning up after breakfast, Grandma would start preparing for lunch. She always made lunch as the big meal of the day. Dinner was leftovers from lunch. A typical lunch would be either fried chicken, assorted beef dishes including meatloaf, chicken fried steak, or some such main dish, augmented with peas or beans of some kind, corn, and cornbread. But there was one 20th century product available for us kids. Tang!

            As I look back on those days now, I can’t help but admire my grandparents even more than I already do. They worked hard and sowed but reaped a bountiful harvest from their hard work. Nobody ever went away from their table hungry. I remember the pride that I felt when we would be eating something that I had helped bring to the table. I would look at the heaping dishes of corn and beans and realize that I had helped put them there. They tasted so much better because of it. I also feel somewhat embarrassed at how little I put into the meals that I eat now. I don’t grow anything. I buy it all at the store or I eat out. Somebody worked hard to grow that food, but it wasn’t me. I hate to admit it, but I have other things that I like to do. I have no doubt that if a calamity were to befall our nation and the food that we so easily take for granted was no longer available, I could grow a garden to sustain me. As much as I enjoy the ease with which I procure the food that I consume, I realize that I am allowing myself to become dependent on someone else for those needs. That’s not a good thing. Most of us today are at the mercy of whoever is in control of the food supply. Since retiring I have felt good about the life that I now enjoy. I worked hard for decades, saved money, earned benefits, and made mostly wise decisions. Yet, there was a trade-off. I gave up some of my freedoms and independence along the way.

            To anyone out there that gets out and works hard to grow their own food, raise livestock, and provide for their families the necessities of life, I tip my hat to you. You are carrying on the American spirit. You are the backbone of this country. Maybe you don’t have all the things that you would like to have, and I know well how easily a crop can be destroyed by weather or wildlife, but you are rich in my eyes. Keep up the good work and raise another generation that knows the value of hard work and of reaping the benefits of that work.

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