REAPING THE HARVEST
In loving memory of my Great Grandfather Harry Lee Cole
I believe there is fortune in our roots.
As the end of summer drew close, we were reminded that it was potato picking time. Perched at the window, we all waited anxiously for Grampa’s blue truck to peer from the driveways clump of trees. Before the screen door could even slam, we had already nestled our bottoms on blankets in the bed of his truck. Our hands gripped the side rails in anticipation.
Proudly Grampa glanced back at us with a nod and a smile that held his cigar, “ready?” his eyes invited our reply. We nodded, bubbling with pride, Today we are grampa’s helpers. With glee we all sat in the open bed of the old Ford as the wind danced our hair and glued grins on our faces. We passed the time with giggles and waves to neighbors. We bragged of our strength and who would be the best potato finder. All five of us laughed as a bump in the road lifted us up of our seats, wondering who flew the highest we were thankful our life was spared. Grampa smiled in the rearview mirror, we knew he had aimed for that bump.
At last we came to a stop, the cool breeze no longer relived our sweaty brows. The plot of land seemed to beckon us with its pride from a summers hard labor. Eagerly we hopped down from the truck sinking our “Keds” run so fast sneakers deep into the mounds of clumpy soil. We did not mind, for they had already seen a summer of puddle splashing, tree climbing and endless races. Grampa slid off his seat, double checked the shift, put an extra cigar in his pocket and adjusted his hat. He smiled as he gently tapped my on the head saying, “You best tie that shoe missy, there’s no time for ouches here!”I looked up at him and without words he heard my plea. He tugged on his pants, crouched down and tied my laces. I knew how to tie, but Grampa always did it better. With a wiggle to my toe, he then leaned on my shoulder for balance, stood and grabbed his tools from the back of his truck. With a pitch fork in his left hand and my hand in his right, we balanced each other over the tilled soil.
My sisters had already claimed their row in search of fortune as Grampa guided me to, what he called “the well stocked” portion of the potato field. My small hands stroked the rich earth with respect for the treasures it stored. It felt so dry and was still warm from the mornings sun. I dug deep and with victory I embraced my first potato, “I found one, a big one!” I yelled out as I held my bounty high in the air for all to see. In anticipation I waited for Grampa’s nod of approval. From a distance I could see the twinkle in his eye as he offered me a thumbs up.
Soon each child’s claim to the biggest and the best potato had subsided. Grampa always had good timing and before we could ask he hollered “who’s hankering for Grammy Coles picnic lunch?”. We all stumbled over our half days work and dove for the checkered cloth covered basket. He handed us each a neatly creased wax paper package, and as hoped, it was Gram’s famous butter and sugar sandwich. They were cut into triangles and I am sure she had made them before dawn.
We ate juicy apples from the Ingals Farm. Grampas thermos never let us down, as a tradition it contained chocolate milk, not great in the heat but it sure was sweet! Our nurtured bellies were content. Grampa brushed the crumbs from his chin and guided us back to work. The hazy sun was quickly claiming our energy as moved from row to row. I would stop every now and then to scratch faces thru the caked on dirt in the palms of my hands. I would quietly giggle at my artwork and then continue my quest for the biggest potato.
The long rows of rich soil proudly displayed our filled bushels. Grampa, with cigar clenched in teeth would lug them to his truck. When the last one was neatly tucked into place he called for us to pile in the back. I brushed off my hands and knees then battled the disrupted mounds of our labor toward his truck. We placed ourselves somewhat securely onto the piles of potatoes, while gripping the baskets wire handles.
Riding off to the farm house, our mouths watered for Grammies famous lemonade with the ice cubes that clang the glass and a lemon wedge to pucker. When reaching the steep dirt driveway we all anticipated the big tilt soon to come. Grampa would glance back in the rearview mirror to catch our expressions as he played with the gas and brake pedals. We all screamed with excited fear of toppling out with hundreds of rolling potatoes forever lost in the clouds of dirt road dust.
When the old Ford reached the barn and level ground, we gained balance and relief. Grampa puttered with his long awaited fortune as each child raced to reach the farmhouse first. The old screen door welcomed us with its predictable squeak. Soon we were embraced by the wonderful smell of freshly made ginger snaps and grams apron covered hug. Ginger, the family cat, danced his tail around our feet as we attempted to free the days labor from our sneakers. With grams nod of approval we were invited into the arms of her kitchen. Gram stood at the sink while we all waited in line like soldiers to have our hands washed. In turn we each stood on the step stool, neatly tucked into place. Gram gripped the bar of soap and worked up a rich lather. While the water trickled she guided my small hands in hers, gently scrubbing every knuckle and nail. Washing away so much more than just a days work. I welcomed her gentle touch that seemed to speak of trust and security.
We settled ourselves around the table beneath the lace covered windows. Gramp boasted of his harvest and his dedicated helpers. We made shapes out of our cookies with our teeth, still remembering our manors. I nibbled a sail boat out of mine and drifted off across the ocean, for a short moment. Ginger, annoyed by our presence had found comfort in grampa’s favorite leather chair. Gram scuffed across the kitchen floor to the sitting room, where she found Grampa settled next to the cat. I heard her lift the roll top to Gramps legal desk, a familiar sound. My ears perked up waiting for that predictable sweet sound of her lifting the tin cover to the mouth watering buttermints. In preparation for flight, I waited, “who wants a buttermint?” she hollered, knowing full well the answer. We all wrestled to be first in line. All was now content, with full bellies, nurtured hearts and a sweet moment in our lives. I looked around to capture all the senses of that day to tuck away and cherish forever. Holding on to tradition and reaping my own harvest to enjoy for years to come.
Every detail in this sweet tale is true and still touches my heart today.
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