South Central Kansas
The Summer I Was 10 Years Old
The summer I was 10 years old my grandparents decided my legs were long enough to reach the clutch on the pickup, making me eligible to assist with harvest. It was 1961, the year of the Kansas centennial. As a child I always sensed when wheat harvest time was close because the winds blew so hot and steady in Reno County, as my grandfather said, "it was like standing in front of a blow torch." I thought that driving the pickup to the grain elevator in Buhler, 10 miles away, was a better job than my usual harvest chore, to chase down the chickens for slaughter in order for my grandmother to cook for the custom cutters.
My grandparents never owned a combine but always hired a custom cutter crew. The crews were the gypsies of that time, following the harvest, sleeping in the barn, going to town at night to drink beer with the locals, and eating mass quantities of food. The kitchen was so hot when my grandmother fried chicken and boiled potatoes that I was happy to be relieved of that duty. Little did I know that in order to reach the clutch on the pickup I would be required to stand up to see out. This didn't factor into the decision to have me drive, nor did the fact that I ground the gears all the way to town.
I drove down the road to the field where the combine filled the pickup bed with grain. Often times my sister and I would sit in the back of the truck after it was filled with grain and with our bare feet dig around like kids in a sandbox. Once we came upon a huge bull snake in the grain and as we scrambled screaming over the sides of the pickup bed my grandfather rushed over and killed the snake with a hoe. We also could make a rather tasteless "gum" from chewing a few kernels.
When the load was ready I drove, at a speed of no more than 20 miles an hour, to the grain elevator in Buhler. Most of the time the lines were long waiting to store and sell grain. The men at the grain elevator seemed to know who I was and to keep the records for my grandparents. My grandfather impressed upon me that it was my responsibility to sweep the back of the pickup so that we were credited with every kernel of wheat.
The next year at harvest found my grandfather hospitalized and dying of cancer. My grandmother tried hard not to let her worry show, but we knew. She was worried about money, weather and how to get the harvest in, knowing that this would be their last. My grandmother was looking out the kitchen window early one morning when the neighboring farmers, all members of the Mennonite Church, drove down the driveway and into the fields. They worked until the harvest was in and never accepted any payment. My grandmother's mood lifted and she turned to me and told me to go catch chickens because the harvesters would be hungry soon.