The happiness of autumn

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I always loved fall on the farm while growing up.

There was something wonderful about the temperatures finally cooling down but not getting to the point you froze your butt off.

There was something wonderful about watching all the leaves fall from the giant cottonwoods and the tomato plants finally shrivel up and die (which meant we didn’t have to pick, weed or can them any longer).

It was a time of a lot of work, with silage cutting and corn picking — and the cattle had to be moved back home, from the pastures, for the winter.

But it was a time of reward, when you could finally step back and look at the results of the summer’s hard work.

And rewarding it was — especially for me and the brothers. My grandpa and father used the same old corn picker year after year. It was definitely not a combine, it could only handle a few rows at a time. But they also didn’t have multiple quarters to pick. Most of the corn ended up on the silage pile and they would pick the rest.

The issue with the old picker was that it would leave a substantial number of ears on the ground and not in the bin where it was supposed to end up. At that time, there was only one solution — someone was going to have to physically pick up that corn and do something with it.

Of course, the task was daunting. There was a lot of area and a lot of corn.

So each day after school, for about an hour or so, Steve, Terry and I would pick up our sturdy cardboard boxes and head to the field. We’d each take a row and start moving. Dad would strategically place small wagons at different parts of the field so we could dump our cobs when our boxes got full.

The most important part of the whole process was that we had to count our cobs and keep a tally on the side of the box. We got paid by the cob — so, the more cobs we picked up, the more we were paid.

The folks actually placed us on the honor system. I guess they must have trusted us. I don’t remember cheating and I don’t think Terry did, either. But Steve — none of us really knew, but he moved a little slower than we did, yet his pay was usually the same as mine.

After a while, the younger brother and I would grow weary of the task and call it a day. Not Terry. He was motivated to keep on moving, pick up even more cobs than we did or he did the day before. He was determined to increase his cob count which translated to increasing his pay. It’s interesting — he’s still like that today. Every day, he’s hell bent on doing more than he did the day before, each and every day. And somehow, he continues to keep that pace.

Then Dad would get a tractor, collect the wagons — and we’d get paid our money. It was worth it.

There was also the realization on Saturday mornings that we didn’t have to butcher chickens, or pick beans, or put up sweet corn. That stuff was already done. The shelves in the underground cave were full of jars and the deep freezers in Grandma’s basement were packed. We could actually watch cartoons like normal kids — that was reward enough.

I may be grown now and I don’t get to the farm nearly as much as I would like. But this morning, when the air was crisp and the hints of fall were apparent, I had to smile.

“Oh, thank God for fall,” I whispered to myself. “I never thought it would get here.”


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