August dog days mean you work like a dog

August 10, 2018

The cold front accompanied by a strong northwest wind brought the overnight low down to 58 degrees F. The cool air was a reminder that fall isn’t that far away. The ears on the corn that abuts the township road are adorned with silk.

Dad, as his younger self, often used August’s dog days to tag along with his friends on a Canadian fishing trip. He stopped going even though the farm and its daily operations had been turned over to his sons.

Youthful ambitions produced ambitious improvement projects. The dirt cow yard, which became a sea of mud when it rained, would be cemented in a backbreaking effort that began in early August.

Portland cement in bags, sand, water, an electric cement mixer, wheel barrow, forms, rakes and shovels worked in unison to create a near-perfect cow yard.

The work commenced in August and miraculously was officially completed before the end of the month with our initials etched in soft concrete.

Time enough remained to harvest third-crop alfalfa, haul manure on small grain stubble and chop corn for the cows — the pasture had been eaten down and the cows hungered for more.

That is perhaps the reason the herd decided to break through the fence. The neighbor’s unused pasture — filled with skyscraper-tall nettles and hordes of mosquitos — nonetheless was their favorite escape. My brother, who is my closest sibling in terms of age, and I fought over who would fetch them back. Invariably, or so it seemed, I was the one who drew the shortest straw.

Dad, who needed spending money and who was nervous about not having enough to do, signed on with a corn shelling crew. Ear corn that had been stored since the preceding harvest needed to be shelled to make room for the coming fall crop.

It was a dirty, low-paying and miserable job. Younger members of the shelling crew learned early on to tie their pant legs tight so scrambling rats and mice couldn’t use their legs as escape highways. Corn mold, in the days when breathing masks were a novelty and not a necessity, caused stubborn coughs. August’s humid heat made work conditions even worse.

The corn cobs were ground in the mill and used for bedding for the sows who would produce fall litters. Some cobs bedded the chicken coop, although Mother liked sawdust obtained from Le Center’s lumber mill much better. The Leghorn pullets would have free range of the farmstead until October nights turned cold and the played out old hens were slaughtered.

The projects continued with two pole barns, a silo and additional grain bins. From the perspective that time provides, Dad and Mother sacrificed so much for their children. To give their boys greater opportunity, they quit the rented farm to purchase their first one in 1958. The rented farm house was several sizes too small, brutally cold in winter with paper thin insulation, and an oil-burning furnace that was easily overmatched by winter.

The house lacked indoor plumbing, which meant chamber pots and wash-tub baths were limited to Easter, Christmas and weddings.

Dad was 56 years old then and Mother just a couple of years younger. It would have been less risky and perhaps less stressful to take jobs in town. How their children who had yet to reach adulthood would have fared had they not stuck their neck out will forever be unknown. However, it’s a good bet they would have turned out worse without the purpose a farm provided.

I seldom fail to thank our parents for what they did when I visit them in the St. Henry Cemetery. I wished I had done that when they were alive.

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