From the “Around the Kitchen Table” Guest Blog Series
Guest Blogger: Debbie Odette
Note from Ginny: Debbie was 7 ¾ years old when her parents bought the farm where I was born and raised. Here’s a memory of her first day as a farm girl in Harlan, Michigan.
My first morning waking up on the farm! I had waited months for this special day. Would it be all I had dreamed of? Would I be a different person at the end of the day? Would I be picking wildflowers to wear in my hair instead of roller skating? I always wore a ribbon around my neck with a key on it to tighten the roller skates to my shoes. Oh, I so wanted the most perfect day of sunshine and breezes. I had determined that I could climb a couple of those apple trees in the yard, they didn’t look dangerous. And that mile high grass between the garage and the barn was going to be a great place to play hide and seek.
Anxious to explore, I dressed in shorts and a summer top, combed my unruly curls and remembered to make my bed while the smell of bacon crept up the steep steps of the farmhouse. In Daddy’s house, you wouldn’t get a single bite of those fluffy pancakes or a slice of bacon if you dared to come to the table wearing pajamas or without combing your hair. Being the kind of kid that woke up hungry, I sure didn’t want to be sent back upstairs to do right what I should have done in the first place. The coffee and bacon aroma was enough to make my stomach growl. And it was so good! Daddy always made perfect silver dollar pancakes which I lined up around my plate and spread generously with butter and syrup. Mom cooked the eggs and Daddy always teased her about using a spatula to turn them over instead of flipping them in the air.
I gulped frozen concentrated orange juice and slathered another couple of pancakes while dreaming of the day’s adventures. That huge old barn was going to need a complete inspection as well as the small building with the sloped roof and all those windows. Hmmmm, what to inspect first?
Just as I soaked up the last of the syrup on my plate, Daddy peeked under the table, saw my shorts and said, “You’re going to need long pants out in the field.” What? What was he talking about? Field? I’m not going out there…no, nope, not me. That’s a long way from the house and even my big sister probably couldn’t keep me safe if something came out of the surrounding trees to growl at us or worse yet chase us! Daddy had to be going crazy. He didn’t expect two little girls to go to the field, did he? I mean, what for? It didn’t make sense. I remembered I had left my roller skates and beloved two-wheeler in the city. What would I do all day? It didn’t take long to get an answer to that question. Mom suggested I change my shorts for long pants and I grudgingly complied. Apparently the adults in the family had made plans that I was learning on a need-to-know basis. Well, they weren’t going to spoil my day. It was still a sunny, breezy morning with lots of fresh air and this place smelled of adventure at every turn.
Daddy said my sister and I could ride in the back of the truck. Really? Isn’t that dangerous? What if I fall off? Dad laughed at us and said to sit in the corner near the cab and keep those bushel baskets and crates from falling off. The truck had no tail gate. It occurred to me that this was my very first responsibility on the farm and by golly, every single basket and crate would still be there when we arrived as when we started. It was a long way out to the cornfield and watching the farmhouse get smaller and smaller wasn’t comforting. (Although knowing I didn’t have to wash the breakfast dishes was almost a reward. I just might prefer to be out in the wide-open air rather than in the kitchen with all that drudgery.)
Where we stopped, corn stalks had been grouped together and stood here and there like an Indian village of the past. Asking about them, Daddy said these were called corn shocks and had been put together last fall, safe for the winter and still good food for animals. The trick was twisting the ears off the stalks and tossing them into our containers. It didn’t look too difficult. The three of us could finish in no time. But after Daddy loosened the twine from some of the teepees, shaking them a little, he said, “Okay girls, give it a try and I’ll be back in a little bit to load the baskets in the truck. Don’t miss any ears.” And then he left. This was unbelievable. We watched him bounce back across the field in his truck. Was this being a farm girl? The future looked bleak. I dropped a couple of ears in a basket and we decided we would work together filling a basket because it would go faster. But it didn’t go fast. Looking for hidden ears of corn was difficult.
“What if the Indians that built these teepees came and wanted their corn back?” I proclaimed to my sister that I wasn’t going to stick around and bargain with them. I thought of animals in the trees that might eat me and that was scarier yet. We agreed to stick together no matter what. We soon had picked all the ears off the loosened stalks and had to reach into the shock for more stalks. At my third or fourth time of digging into that dusty mound, something small and round ran across my hand and right down my leg into the tufts of grass surrounding us. I gasped with terror and backed fifteen feet or so away from the haunted corn stalks. What on earth? When my sister and I caught our breath, we started picking corn again and it didn’t take long to find what had caused such a fright. A nest of tiny wiggling, sightless, hairless bodies with tails. We decided they were harmless. But we couldn’t let them die. Daddy would know what to do. We took off running, holding hands and dodging cowpies and rocks. We ran until our throats burned with the effort. Such a relief to find Daddy outside wrapping wire around a post. We explained something was living in one of the teepees, so teensie tiny and we didn’t know what to do.
Daddy handed us a drink of water from the Mason jar he was holding. I thought about looking for a cup but just took a quick gulp from the rim of the jar. Mom arrived just as I was considering sliding off to the farmhouse to find my Little House on the Prairie book to remind myself why life in the country is so wonderful. Mom had brought a couple of fresh baked oatmeal cookies for us. Oh, they were a chewy little piece of heaven! The world was beginning to look normal again. Time to get back to the cornstalks.
We all piled into the truck cab and bounced along the ruts in the fields to the corn shock with the squirming animals in it. Daddy said, “Mice.” Really? These were mice? Saturday morning cartoons mice were cute and furry and ate cheese. These were furless, sightless, squirmy little animals. Daddy placed the wriggling mass next to a fence post and said nature would have to take over from here. It was no stretch of the imagination to know how their day would end. In short order a lesson was learned by this city girl. Living in the country was going to mean a lot of different things. We might not like everything we see but learning from those who had been here before was going to help show us how to love life on a farm.