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Harvesting memories

Agriculture.com Staff 09/19/2006 @ 7:55am

Autumn is here, a season when spirits soar even as temperatures plummet.

This is because Fall is harvest time, basically a huge, once-a-year payday for farmers.

The sight of ripening corn always reminds me of the crisp Fall day that I became a man -- at least to my mind.

All through my high school years, Dad hung onto his outdated farming methods. He insisted on picking our corn on the ear and cribbing it, a process that often took all fall.

It was not uncommon for us to be pecking away at corn picking long after Thanksgiving.

The fall I turned 19, Dad finally took my oft-offered advice about hiring a custom harvester so we could celebrate Thanksgiving without glancing ruefully at the unpicked corn.

Dad hired Alvie, a family friend and an effervescent, jovial kind of guy. A perpetual grin danced across his face and a chuckle constantly bubbled in his throat. Alvie could reduce even the most dyspeptic, sour-faced, fire-and-brimstone preacher into a puddle of giggles.

It was a big day when Alvie pulled onto our north field with his brand-new TR 70 combine. Upon hearing the roar of the machine, I ran out to the headland and waited for Alvie and his giant combine to get back to the end.

Alvie expertly reined his steed to a halt beside his truck, and a golden stream of corn began to gush from the unloading auger. I scrambled up the ladder to the cab and Alvie invited me to ride with him. I was in heaven.

What a marvel that combine was! I was accustomed to picking two rows at a time with a pull-type picker, travelling at speeds normally associated with glaciers. I often counted the passing ears to stave off boredom.

Flying down the field as the combine gobbled four rows at a time made me feel as if I was aboard the starship Enterprise -- albeit with a hilarious Captain Kirk who soon had my sides aching from excessive giggling.

When we got back to the headland Dad was waiting with a pair of empty wagons. He had been joined by Alvie's brother Sylvan, who had been driving by and decided to stop and take a look at his little brother's big new machine.

We chatted in the frigid stillness of the descending autumn twilight. "Yep, it sure feels like fall," declared Sylvan, his breath forming tiny white clouds that hung in the air. "What would really go good right now is a snort."

Alvie promptly turned on his heel and trotted to his pickup. He returned in a twinkling with pint of whiskey.

The pint was opened and passed wordlessly to Dad, then to Sylvan. Alvie then silently handed the bottle to me. His actions spoke much louder than words: You're one of us now. You're a man.

Following the lead of the older guys, I put the pint to my lips and took a hearty swig. I instantly saw why they called it a "snort" as I nearly snorted the lava-like fluid right back out my nose.

After a bit Alvie turned to me and asked casually, "You're going to be our trucker, aren't you?"

I casually said of course I would, which caused my stomach to launch into some violent calisthenics. I was too embarrassed to reveal the truth, that I had driven tractors and pickups but was an unalloyed virgin when it came to piloting top-heavy, multi-ton, fully loaded grain trucks.

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