Nebraska woman remembers how hired hands on her family farm played a part in her childhood, as well as her parents' harvest
Hired hands were vital to the Nebraska wheat harvest during the 1940s and 1950s. To Dad, these young men were perpetual energy during a busy time on our family farm. To Mom, they were bottomless stomachs to fill with home-grown food and homesick hearts that needed motherly words. To their three tow-headed children, most of the young men were the big brothers we didn't have in our family.
As the eldest, I recall Harvey, whose compassionate heart at the end of the day saw to it that the barefooted young ones didn't get in trouble about filthy feet. He would wash our feet in the horse tank and carry us to the house.
When Dad was hospitalized with a broken leg that required surgery, a neighbor boy helped Mom with the chores. He was inside once when Mom was cutting up a fryer. Our curious noses surrounded her as we stood on kitchen chairs observing the process. We shouted out the various body parts. (Mother had told us that the reproductive organs were tonsils. When she came to these parts she attempted to hide them, but our sharp eyes noticed them.) "There are the tonsils!" we chorused. The neighbor exited chuckling.
Another hired man was Calvin, whose sister was a long-time friend of Mother's. She lived about 30 miles away in town. Calvin was tall and had long legs; my short legs had trouble keeping up with him. One evening, as he was carrying two full pails of milk from the barn, I saw a chance to win a race with him! He was up to the challenge. Somehow he managed to beat me. How much milk was spilled, I don't recall.
Eddie was a freckled redhead from Washington's Vashon Island. This teenager's home had electricity and modern plumbing. Our Nebraska farm had kerosene lamps and a privy. Eddie brought a growing boy's appetite; we had few leftovers during the summer that Eddie worked for us. Eddie aided us kids in making a clubhouse, something we Nebraska youngsters knew little about. He helped us make simple chairs by removing three upper sides of wooden orange crates. Next he assisted us in lugging them up the barn's straight-up-and-down wooden ladder that led to the haymow, where the barn cats lived. We held our meetings in the haymow, with Eddie's assistance.
Louie was a minister's son who was studying to be a Lutheran minister. The young teal ducks on the pasture draw tempted him. When we returned from town one afternoon, we found a note on the kitchen table from Louie. It read: "There's a slightly picked 'chicken' in the wash house." Louie had taken one of Dad's rifles to the field and returned with a duckling. Mother couldn't prepare it for a meal, but we don't recall why it was unfit.
One summer during the 1950s I was attending summer school at a Nebraska college. Traveling home one weekend, I conversed with a fellow passenger on the Greyhound bus. He was a handsome Missouri college student who hoped to locate summer employment in Colorado. He was uncertain how he would get there because the bus that we were on went to Wyoming, not Colorado. I informed him that we lived near the Colorado border and that probably my folks could help him get there. (Secretly I was hoping that my dad would hire him!) Bob, the young man, worked that entire summer for Dad and nearby neighbors.
Dad occasionally hired older men but some of them weren't satisfactory workers. To us three, older men weren't a bit exciting, but we recall the young laborers with fond memories.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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