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Authors: Lois Lenski

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BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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“Our corn knife,” said Dick. “We were chopping cockleburrs this morning and left it here. I'll take it with me.”

Suddenly the barking of dogs was heard. Wilma and Margy came running across the field. Buster and Popcorn came, too.

“We saw you,” said Wilma. “We want to go to the creek if you kids are going.”

“What's Dad doing?” asked Dick. “I saw him go back with the sprayer.”

“He's starting to grind ear corn for the cattle,” said Wilma. “Raymond is helping him.”

“O. K. then,” said Dick. “We'll go down to the water hole.”

The children followed the ditch to the creek. Hogs liked to wallow at the edge and bury themselves deep in the water, with only their heads out, to keep cool. Now they all scampered away, frightened. The children came to a small bridge made of planks. They all ran over and Buster went, too. But Popcorn stopped and barked. He refused to cross.

“He's trying to tell us he's scared,” said Dick. “I'll go back and get him. He can see the water through the cracks, can't you, Shicklegruber?”

Dick called and coaxed, but Popcorn would not cross. Dick picked him up and carried him over. Even in Dick's arms, the little dog held his legs stiff from fright.

“You are a little old baby,” said Dick, dropping him.

Once safely across, Popcorn ran about and barked as usual. Just below the plank bridge, the creek widened into a pond about twenty feet across. The pond was always an exciting place, as it was the biggest body of water in the neighborhood. To the children, it held all the charms of lake or ocean.

“There's a fish,” cried Margy. “I see a fish.”

Elmer looked at Dick. “Why didn't you bring a pole?”

“Why didn't you bring one?” asked Dick. “We might catch some fish and take them home for supper.”

“Where are those turtles?” asked Elmer.

“I don't know,” said Dick. “Hiding, maybe.”

“Why don't you dam this up,” Elmer went on, “and make a real swimming hole? Can you swim?”

“I bet I can swim as good as you can,” said Dick.

“We haven't any place to swim,” said Wilma.

“Right here's a good place,” said Elmer. “All you need to do is dam it up at this end.”

“What do you know about making swimming holes?” asked Dick.

Elmer did not argue. “Let's see how deep it is here. Gimme that corn knife.”

Dick handed it over. Elmer got down on his knees at the edge of the creek. He thrust the corn knife down into the water and mud. He stretched his arm down as far as he could.

“It's deeper than the corn knife and my arm,” he said.

“Let me try it,” said Dick.

Dick took the corn knife and plunged it in. He leaned over as far as he could.

“I'll hold your legs,” said Elmer, grabbing him. “Now reach down deep.”

The next minute, to everybody's surprise, Dick was
in the water
. He began to gasp and sputter and thrash his arms wildly.

“Heavenly days!” cried Wilma. “You pushed him in, Elmer Ruden. I saw you. He'll get drownded!”

Margy screamed at the top of her voice.

Elmer looked scared. He said to Wilma, “He can swim, can't he? He said he could.”

“You know he can't, Elmer Ruden,” said Wilma, “any more than
you
can. Nobody can learn to swim in a mudhole like this. Now you pushed him in, you can just help to pull him out.”

Wilma ran, broke off the limb of a bush and came running back.

“Grab this, Dick!” She held the limb over the water and was able to pull the floating boy near the edge.

“Now, Elmer, don't stand there like a bump on a log,” Wilma shouted. “Come and help pull him out. You too, Margy.”

The three children leaned over and grabbed Dick's arms. He struggled in the soft mud, and they managed to pull him out. He stood there with water and mud dripping off him.

“Well, we got you out,” said Elmer, grinning. They all giggled with relief.

“What will Mom say?” asked Wilma. This was the first time any of the children had fallen in the creek. Mom had kept them scared of it since they were little. “First we pull a calf out, then Dick!” Wilma laughed.

“You can dry off in the sun, Dick,” said Elmer, “and not say anything about it.”

“But look at the mud on his clothes,” said Wilma.

“That will dry too,” said Elmer. “Then you can brush it off.”

“We better go home,” said Dick. His voice sounded funny.

“But don't you want to dry off first?” asked Elmer.

“Where's the corn knife?” asked Dick.

“You had it,” said Elmer. “You were measuring to see how deep the water is.”

“The corn knife is in the creek,” said Dick. He turned on Elmer. “It was all your idea, Elmer Ruden, to measure the water. Now you can just get the corn knife out.”

“Me?” said Elmer. “How can I?”

“Here, take this stick and try to find it,” said Wilma.

Elmer sat down at the edge of the water. He rolled his pants leg up and stuck one foot in. He could not feel bottom and he could not find the corn knife. He lay down flat on his stomach. He swished the bushy limb around in the water, but he saw and felt no sign of the lost corn knife.

“I bet she's sunk way down deep in,” he said, “over our heads.”

Wilma looked at Dick. “You want to try, Dick?” she asked.

Then she saw that Dick was shaking. It was a hot summer day and the sun was shining, but Dick was shaking. She felt his hands and they were cold to her touch. The boy's chest looked little and thin with his shirt stuck to it wet and tight. She put her arm around his skinny shoulders.

“I've got to get you home quick,” she said. “We'll forget the corn knife. Come on, Margy.”

Without a word to Elmer Ruden, the three children went back across the pasture. Elmer watched them go. Then he loped across the field, found his bicycle and rode off down the road whistling.

Back at the barnyard Wilma said, “We might as well tell Dad and get it over with, Dick. Don't you think so?”

“Yes,” said Dick. “It was an old corn knife anyway, but still … I suppose he didn't want me to lose it.”

Dad was by the barn grinding ear corn. The children came up and Wilma shouted, “Dick lost the corn knife, Dad.” She had to shout very loud so he could hear above the clatter of the noisy machine. Dad had the scoop shovel in his hands. He came over to hear better.

“I … I dropped the corn knife in the creek!” yelled Dick.

“IN THE CREEK?” shouted Dad. “What were you doing with the corn knife in the creek?”

Angry and annoyed, Dad started toward the boy, scoop shovel in hand. Then he saw him—wet, dripping and covered with mud. He stopped in his tracks. One look was enough.

“Dog-gone-it!” he cried. “What next. Won't that kid ever get any sense?” To Wilma he said, “Take him in the house and tell Mom to put him to bed.”

CHAPTER VII

In the Cornfield

“Why doesn't she come?” asked Margy.

“She'll come as soon as they bring her,” said her mother.

Supper was over and all the chores were done. The family sat around and waited. They were all eager for Wilma to get back from her first job—detasseling corn. Dad had driven her to town that morning at six-thirty. From there, with a group of farm and town girls, she was driven in a truck to the Seed Company's farm. Every six female rows of the hybrid seed corn had to have the tassels removed, leaving two male rows with tassels for spreading the pollen. This was done so that the ears produced on the female cornstalks would be pure seed.

It was growing dark when a car stopped at the end of the lane—the Hasses' car. The tall, slim figure of a growing girl came running in. Wilma wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, old blouse and jeans, ankle socks and her oldest shoes. She was red-faced and hot, covered with dirt and dust. When she got to the porch, she staggered and slumped down on the couch.

“Jeepers!” she cried out. “It's good to be back. I'm ready for a bath. I feel like I've been eating dirt.”

“The water is heating in the wash-house,” said Mom.

Everybody began to talk at once.

“How did you like it?” asked Dick.

“Was the work hard?” asked Mom. “Could you reach the tassels?”

“Aw—look at that sunburn!” said Raymond. “Your neck is burnt to a crisp. You've spoiled your good looks forever.”

“How hot was it—one hundred and twenty degrees out in the sun at noon?” asked Dad.

Wilma caught her breath and began to answer. “It was chilly on the ride over. We started out in slacks and sweaters. By noon we were down to shorts and halters.”

“Did you bring some of your lunch back to me?” asked ever-hungry Margy.

“No,” said Wilma. “I ate every bit of it—all four of those meat sandwiches, the fruit and cookies and potato chips and the candy bar. Then I wished I'd left the potato chips and candy bar at home. They made me too thirsty. And what do you think? They won't give you enough water.”

“They won't?” asked Mom. “Why not?”

Wilma pulled out her collapsible drinking cup to show them.

“I carry this in my pocket, and if I lose it, I pay twenty-five cents. Our crew foreman, Ernie Welker, told us not to drink too much water or it would make us sick. They have water in milk cans at the ends of the row, but the rows are about a mile long.”

“What's this you're wearing?” asked Margy.

“That's my badge,” said Wilma. “It says
Standard Seed Company
and it's got my number on it. If I lose my badge, I pay twenty-five cents to replace it.”

“But what did you
do
all day?” asked Dick.

“DO?” cried Wilma. “I pulled tassels ALL DAY LONG for six solid hours! Tassels, tassels, tassels! I'm sick of them. We go over the rows not once, but three times. The first time we take all the tassels we can see. The second time, we feel for them and take everything. The third time we take suckers and all the tassels lower down.”

Dick said, “I don't see anything hard about that.”

“You don't, eh?” said Wilma. “Well, I do. At the end of the first hour I thought I was going to die. After the first row I was going to quit. I got me a drink. I took the second row and it made me feel discouraged. Then I just put away the thought and kept on. I tried to think about what I'll do with my money.”

“Why did you get so discouraged?” asked Dick.

“It's hard work, that's why,” said Wilma. “You walk and stretch and reach as high as you can reach. Most of that corn is ten feet high already. I never saw such corn before. I'd like to meet the guy that invented it and tell him what I think of him! The pollen fell down on my neck and arms and stung me. My arm and shoulder just ached. I felt sorry for the short girls. You can't sit down and rest every two feet. You have to keep on going. If you get behind, they'll fire you. Some of the girls got sick.”

“What did they do?” asked Mom.

“They went to the truck to lie down,” said Wilma. “The truck is parked out on the road in the hot sun. You can lie
under
it, but that's no fun either.”

“Did Rita and Donna go, too?” asked Raymond.

“Sure,” said Wilma, “and we had the most fun …”


Fun
?” cried Raymond. “I thought this was hard work.”

“We had fun, too,” said Wilma. “We laughed and sang and kidded each other all the way over in the truck and all the way back. It took us two hours to get to the field. Gosh! That truck seat was so hard and the road so bumpy. We had to sit on planks—thirty-nine of us, three crews. There's a canvas over the top to keep the dust off.”

“Two hours each way?” asked Dad. “Where did they take you?”

“Heavens, I don't know,” said Wilma. “Way off in the central part of the state somewhere. The roads were all new to me. We get paid for one way in the truck, so we don't mind how far we go.”

BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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