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Authors: Lois Lenski

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BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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Mom came down the stairs.

“You came home from school half-sick this morning,” she said. “You've had a big day, with the new tractor and all. In this damp spring weather, it's bad for you to be outside so much. It will make your rheumatism worse.”

“Oh, it's spring now,” said Dick. “It's not cold any more. I feel hot when I'm outside with my jacket on.”

“The doctor said you must take plenty of rest,” said Mom.

“He was just babying me, Mom,” said Dick. “Besides, I had a good rest today. I've been lying down on the couch ever since supper.”

Mom turned to Dad. “What do you think, Mark?”

Dick looked at Dad too. Would Dad tell about the tumble from the tractor? If he did, it meant bed sure for Dick. Dad looked up from his paper.

“This is no child's play, son,” he said. “Farrowing is a serious business and hard work. I don't want to lose any little pigs this year. I want to save them all this time.”

“I've tamed Susie,” said Dick. “If I'm there, she'll be easier to handle. She won't get so excited.”

Dad thought for a minute, then he said, “If you'll stay out of the way and not bother us, you can watch for a while. But don't go getting sleepy on me. I'll have no time to bother with you.”

It was quite late when Mark Hoffman and Dick went to the hog-house. Raymond returned from the Rudens' and came out to help. The hog-house was a busy place. Dick perched up on a bale of straw in the alleyway to watch.

It was dark now outside. The building was lighted with a few dim overhead lights. Everything began to happen at once. Dad and Raymond kept going back and forth, caring for the sows, but Dick stayed close by Susie. He rubbed her ears and scratched her back to keep her quiet. Then Dad came back to help Susie. He got down on his knees and used straw and a gunny sack to rub the wet new pigs off as soon as they were farrowed. Then he pushed them over under the heat lamp in the corner of the pen. Dick knew they must not be allowed to get cold or they would die. He lost count of how many there were. He wondered how late it was.

“Here's a little fellow that will never make it,” said Dad. “He'll be a squealer. We won't waste any time on him.”

Dick picked up the runty pig and wrapped it in a sack. When Mom came out, she saw Dick curled up on the bale of straw fast asleep.

“Take that boy out of here,” said Dad.

Mom shook Dick by the shoulder to waken him. Dick heard a voice telling him to go to the house. He cuddled the little runt in his arms and stumbled out the door. The barnyard looked strange. It must be midnight now. He had never been up so late before. The bright electric yard-light on top of the tall pole, brightened everything, but threw strange dark shadows behind the circle of farm buildings. They made it look like somebody else's barnyard, not the familiar one that Dick knew so well. The last thing he remembered was putting the little runt in a box behind the range. Mom spooned some milk down the pig's throat. The kitchen was warm and Dick knew it would be safe there.

The next morning Dick slept late. When he came down for breakfast, Dad's and Raymond's places were empty.

Excited, Dick asked his mother: “How many pigs? How many did Susie have? Where are Dad and Raymond?”

“Still sleeping,” said Mom. “They were up and down all night. Dad said for you to go out and water Susie and the other sows. See that Susie doesn't lie on her pigs and crush them. Give her water and a little mash—not much.”

Dick did not wait to eat breakfast. He and Margy ran out to the hog-house.

“Don't talk loud,” said Dick, “and be sure to move easy. Any sharp noise or move will make a sow jump up and step on her pigs.”

The two children tiptoed in. The little pigs in Susie's pen were nursing contentedly. Dick counted and there were eleven.

“Eleven! Not counting the runt.”

“Oh, how cute they are,” said Margy. “I want one.”

“Wait till you see my runt,” said Dick.

After bringing feed and water for the sows, and looking in the other pens, Dick and Margy decided that Susie's pigs were the nicest. The children ran back to the kitchen to see the runt. It was still alive. Dick warmed a little diluted milk and fed it from a spoon first.

“Let me hold it,” cried Margy. “Can't I feed it?”

“No,” said Dick. “It's too little.”

“You can take that pig right back to its mother,” said Mom.

“Aw, Mom—I want to make a pet out of it,” said Dick. “I know just how to raise it. I read up on it in the farm magazine. I have to give it warm milk every two hours.”

“Out of a bottle, like a baby?” asked Margy.

“No,” said Dick. “Pigs don't drink out of bottles like baby lambs. It will soon stand up and drink out of a pie pan, you'll see.”

“Not one of my pie pans,” said Mom. “Take it out to its mother and let it nurse.”

“It's too little,” said Dick. “Those other eleven big ones will never let it get anything to eat.”

Dick coaxed, and at last Mom said: “Well, only for a day or two. Then out it goes.”

Margy looked at Dick. “What's its name?”

The little runt made a noise.

“Squeaky,” said Dick.

CHAPTER II

A Bird in Hand

“What you kids up to?” called Dad.

Dad heard a loud commotion—dog barking, chickens squawking, geese running and flapping their wings. Around the corner of the barn came Dick and Margy riding on a cow's back. It was Flossie, one of the milk cows. A bridle and harness had been rigged out of ropes. Elmer Ruden had come over to play. Elmer was plump and short and had a butch hair cut. He walked behind and held the reins. When he slapped Flossie with his whip, she kicked up her heels and Margy squealed.

“We're breaking Flossie to ride,” answered Dick.

“You'll be breaking your necks,” said Dad, “if you don't watch out. Better go put that cow back in the pasture where she belongs. Then come back here and help me, boys.”

Dick slid off Flossie's back and helped Margy down. He took the cow's harness off. He opened the gate and let her into the pasture. Margy ran to the house. Dick and Elmer helped Dad pull the corn planter out from the shed. Dad took it out in two pieces. The corn planter had to be pulled by the tractor. It had four round boxes on it, into which the seed corn was poured. It planted four rows at a time. Planting proceeded as fast as the tractor could be driven in loose dirt.

“Going to plant corn, Dad?” asked Dick.

“Sure,” said Dad, “if it don't rain.”

He told Dick to get some boards. Dick put them under the sharp pieces that make the rows. Dick brought grease-can and toolbox from the tool shed. Dad used bolts and nuts to set the machine together. He greased it in a number of places. He tried kernels of corn between the plates. He worked for an hour, while the boys watched.

“When the kernels go through real nice,” Dad said, “it's all set to plant corn.”

“How long before the corn comes up, Dad?” asked Dick.

“It'll be up in seven days of good weather.”

Dick turned to Elmer. “Here it's the first week of May already and the corn's not in. It's taken so long to get the fields ready. First you plow, then disc, then drag, then plant, then drag. The reason you have to drag so much is to keep the ground level. Raymond said if you didn't, you would break the cultivator.”

“What would I care?” laughed Elmer. “Then I'd ride to town and get it fixed.”

“But the important thing is to get the crop in before it rains,” Dick went on.

All the neighbors grew corn as their major crop. Some had finished planting the week before. Dick was as concerned as his father over the delay and the prospects for a good crop.

“Don't worry, Dick,” said Dad. “All we can do is plant the corn. Then hope and pray that we'll get enough rain to make it grow, that the hail won't ruin it, that the bugs and corn borers will let it alone, that it doesn't get drowned out by too much rain or dried up in the hot sun. Then maybe, we'll have a good crop.”

The boys laughed. Dad attached the planter to the new tractor. He loaded two sacks of hybrid corn on.

“Can I drive for you, Dad?” asked Dick.

“No,” said Dad. “I don't want to land in the ditch. Listen now, Dick. When Raymond and I are busy in the field, plowing and planting, remember you are in charge of things around here. Don't do anything foolish. If we don't get in by chore time, you'll have the chores to do.”

“Wilma will help me,” said Dick. “If she helps, she won't have to wash dishes.”

As his father drove out the lane, Dick's eyes followed the new tractor with longing. When would he ever be allowed to drive it?

“Let's do something,” said Elmer Ruden.

“Want to see a crow's nest?” asked Dick.

“Sure,” said Elmer. “Where is it?”

“Oh—somewhere,” said Dick, cautiously. “Let's go over to the grove.”

Two double rows of trees—Chinese elms, mulberries and box elders—had been planted on the northwest side of the homestead to act as windbreak and snow-catcher. The region had formerly been prairie land, treeless, virgin prairie grass. Only the toughest trees would grow. Every grove in the region meant shelter for a farm home and buildings.

At one edge of the grove was the farm junk yard. Here old iron, tin cans, tires, wire and discarded machinery had been piled. Elmer and Dick began prowling, when Margy turned up.

“Margy!” scolded Dick. “Go back in the house. You can't come with us.”

Margy turned back whimpering. “I'll tell Mama on you.”

“Where's that crow's nest?” demanded Elmer.

“It's up in the tiptop of a pine tree,” said Dick. “It's got some baby crows in it, too. They're getting feathers already.”

“Let's catch them,” said Elmer.

“What for?” asked Dick, with a serious look on his face.

“I'd like one for a pet,” said Elmer. “If you slit their tongues, you can teach them to talk.”

“You just want to hurt them,” said Dick. “I know
you.

Dick started back toward the barnyard.

“Where's that pine tree?” Elmer kept asking. “Where's that crow's nest?”

“I won't show you now,” said Dick. “I've changed my mind.”

They walked past his mother's vegetable garden. Dick pointed. “See our raspberries—they're not blooming yet. New sprouts are growing out of the old ones. If they keep on like that, we'll have to move the fence over.”

Elmer scowled. “Where's that crow's nest?” he demanded.

Dick walked on. As they passed the mulberry bush, several goldfinches flew out.

“My mother says this bush is bird-heaven,” said Dick, “because the birds like it so much. They nest here in the spring and they come in the summer to get berries to eat.” A bird flew overhead. “Do you know that bird?” Dick went on. “That was a brown thrasher.” Then he felt like kicking himself. He knew he must not talk about birds to Elmer.

“I wish I'd brought my BB gun,” said Elmer. “You got so many birds around here …”

Dick closed his lips tight. He looked at the newly planted vegetable rows in the garden. He tried to think of something to say. “Mom's lettuce will soon be up,” he said lamely.

But Elmer was not listening. He had spotted a bird's nest in a pear tree.

“I see a bird's nest,” said Elmer. “I'll get it before you do.”

Dick looked up and saw it too. It was a yellow-breasted flycatcher's nest. There was one baby bird in it—the others must have flown. Dick's face turned white.

“Let's rob it,” said Elmer. “I'm collecting bird's eggs.”

“There are no eggs in it,” said Dick. “They're all hatched out.”

Elmer was quicker than Dick. He was halfway up the tree already. Dick was trembling all over.

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