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Authors: Lois Lenski

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BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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About half-past eleven, Dad told Raymond to get the fire ready. “Make a good one,” he said.

Raymond went in the grove and with Earl's help brought out armfuls of brush. He started the fire with old dead grass. He piled small brush on the grass, then put larger pieces on top. He tried to light it, but it did not even catch. Dick came out to look.

“That's not the way to do it,” he said. “You laid it all wrong.”

Raymond scowled. “Well—if you know it all …” He walked away in disgust.

Dick set to work and made the fire over. He made a small fire that soon settled into a bed of coals, just right for roasting wieners. The girls brought the little old dinner table from the wash-house.

“Oh boy!” cried Margy. “We're going to eat pretty soon.”

“What we going to eat?” demanded Denny.

“Oh, wieners and pie and beans and lemon drops and potato chips and everything,” said Margy.

“Gimme some!” said Denny.

“You'll have to wait till it's ready,” said Margy.

The boys formed a procession and carried the kitchen chairs out. Uncle Henry brought a reclining porch chair and made himself comfortable in the shade.

“Why don't you help, Uncle Henry?” asked Margy.

“I'm too tired,” said Uncle Henry. “I worked hard all week in the factory in town.”

“Uncle Henry's so lazy he won't do a thing,” Margy reported to her mother.

“Sh, Margy!” said Mom. “You mustn't say that.”

At twelve o'clock, Wilma and Mom brought the food out. Aunt Etta and the twins helped. Then the picnic began. Dick kept the fire going, and everybody took turns holding wieners over the fire. Even Denny learned how to do it. He began roasting wieners for all the others. They crowded round the table and helped themselves to good things. It was a hot day, one of the hottest of the summer, so the shade of the trees was welcome. Flies and gnats swarmed over the food and tormented arms and legs, but nobody seemed to notice. They sat around, talked and ate. Popcorn, the rat terrier, stayed under the table all the time. Dick kept handing him pieces of wiener-sausage when no one was looking.

After Denny got tired of roasting wieners, he came back to the table. “I want a drink! I'm thirsty!” he cried. He climbed on a chair and up on the table. Reaching for the glass pitcher, he tipped it over. A stream of ice-cold brown liquid ran across the table and over the edge into Wilma's lap. She jumped up quickly.

“Oh look! On my good dress! My best Sunday dress!” she cried. A big brown stain was all over the front.

Denny slid down from the table and ran. Wilma's legs were longer than his, so she soon caught him. She gave him a good spanking. Denny cried and yelled.

Aunt Etta jumped up. “Now Wilma,” she said, “if anybody whips Denny, I'm the one to do it.”

“If you'd whip him a little more often,” said Wilma, “he wouldn't be such a nuisance.”


Wilma!
” Dad's stern voice called the girl's name.

Wilma turned away, shamefaced. She ran into the house and came out with her old clothes on—a checked shirt and her oldest blue jeans. Her city cousins looked at her in dismay.

“Why, it's the Fourth of July, Wilma!” said Patsy.

“It's a holiday,” said Betsy. “Have you got only
one
good dress?”

Wilma did not answer. She walked away to the barn.

Mark Hoffman disappeared for a while with Dick. They went to the cellar and came back with the two ice-cold watermelons. Dad used the big butcher knife to slice them into large hunks. Everybody ate watermelon and said how good it was. They spat the black seeds out on the ground.

After the lunch was over, Dad and Uncle Henry stretched out on the grass to rest. Uncle Henry was about to fall asleep when he felt an itching on his nose. He reached up to brush off a fly and found a live bumble bee on the end of a string. The other end was in small Denny's hand. Denny dropped the string and ran away quickly. Everybody laughed.

Uncle Henry sat up abruptly and said, “Well, Mark, when are you going to get that farm?”

Dad woke up and replied, “
What
farm?”

“Oh, the one you're going to move to when you leave here.”

Dick came closer to listen. Mom and Aunt Etta were exchanging recipes over by the table.

“Farms are hard to find,” said Dad in a quiet voice.

“You bet they are,” said Uncle Henry. “There's not many lying around loose half as good as this one.”

“And machinery costs so much,” Dad went on. “If I had in cash all the money I've got tied up in farm machinery, I could go out and
buy
a farm.”

“No doubt you could,” said Uncle Henry. “The machinery used on a farm these days costs more than the farm itself.”

“The only way you can beat it,” Dad went on, “is to buy the machinery in partnership with another farmer.”

“Well—I paid half the cost of the combine,” said Uncle Henry, “and I bought a new tractor for you to use.”

“The tractor helped us out a lot this spring,” said Dad amiably. “We got our corn in good and early.”

The women were listening now.

“Mark gets pretty discouraged,” Mrs. Hoffman said, “but I tell him that goes with farming. All you can do on a farm is to make enough money to put the crop back in again next year. It's an endless circle. We never get much ahead. There are always unexpected expenses to take the little that we save.”

“It costs money to build up the soil too,” said Dad. “Too much goes back into the land, but if you don't do it, you don't get a crop.” He did not sound hopeful.

Aunt Etta turned to Mom: “How
can
you stand it out here, Bertha?”

“Why, we like it, Etta—the kids and I,” said Mom. “‘You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl!' After mother died, I had to stay on the farm and keep house for father. You were little and pretty then, Etta. So they sent you to the city where Aunt Annie brought you up. But I stayed in the country and I've never known anything else. I'd like to be out in the fields all the time now, but the housework keeps me in.”

“Well,” said Dad. “The family's got to
eat!

“I do get out and help milk,” said Mom. “The only thing I don't like is when it's awful hot and the cow's tail comes switching about my head and the flies are bad. Then I wish I was in Alaska!”

They all laughed.

“But aren't you going to give your children any advantages?” asked Aunt Etta.

Mom thought for a minute.

“There are plenty of advantages right here,” she said quietly. “There is always clean fresh air, rain and bright sunshine. There are plants and animals to love and care for. Living close to nature gives you something that is missing in town. I wouldn't want to bring up my children anywhere but here.” She turned to her brother-in-law. “Your farm is not perfect, Henry Shumaker, but we're as contented here as if it were our own.”

Dad looked at Uncle Henry and grinned. “The missus seems to know what's best,” he said.

Uncle Henry nodded. “It's
my
missus—that city girl there—who keeps me cooped up in town. Down in my heart, I like the country better, too.”

“Now, Henry,” began Aunt Etta, “you know that's not true. You told me yourself you got dizzy doing that contour cultivating.”

The men roared with laughter. Dick was relieved. It was funny now. The argument had faded away. Mom refused to let the holiday be spoiled. The men began to talk corn.

Ever since hybrid corn had been introduced to the corn farmers, and had begun to be generally grown, they had sung its praises. Its stalks and roots were stronger, its yield had doubled and all ears within a given field were uniformly large, the rows even and well filled. Dad spoke of the days before the corn picker was invented, when all the picking was done by hand, and the hauling by horse and wagon.

“We are machinists now,” he said. “Not farmers any more. I spend far more time tinkering and repairing machinery than I do sowing, planting and reaping. Farms have turned into factories.”

Dick went out to the big eighty, pulled the tallest cornstalk he could find and brought it back to show the men. He stretched his arm up to show how tall it was.

“‘Knee high,' that's nothing! It's head high by the Fourth of July,” said Uncle Henry, proudly. “I never saw corn as fine as that before—”

He stopped in the middle of his sentence and looked over to the barnyard. Dad and the women looked up, too. Dick stood staring. They all heard the roar of a tractor. It was the new one—Uncle Henry's.

“Now, who on earth—” began Uncle Henry. “I told those girls they were not even to ask to ride on the new tractor.”

“Where's Raymond going?” asked Dad. “I told him we'd take a few days off, now that cultivating is done and the corn is laid by. I don't know where he's going.”

“It's not Raymond, Dad,” said Dick.

The men jumped up and the women too.

“Whoever is driving,” said Uncle Henry, “don't seem to know where they are going.” He looked at Mom. “Can it be Wilma? What's she doing?” He glanced at Aunt Etta. “Patsy wouldn't have the nerve, would she?”

“It's not any of the girls,” said Dick. “It's not even Earl.
It's Denny!

By this time they could see that the tractor was going in a large circle around the huge barnyard. They all ran toward it. Mom and Aunt Etta came too. Over at the barn door stood the girls, Wilma and the twins, Margy and Earl. Dick ran toward them yelling, “Get him off! Get him off!”

Then they saw Raymond tearing after the tractor. There was three-year-old Denny standing up, with the steering wheel firmly grasped in his small hands, trying to behave like a big man. He was smiling happily. He had turned the key on the starter, stepped on a pedal and started it all by himself. Now it was going where he wanted it to go—as easy as his own toy automobile at home. He was in perfect bliss. The tractor must have been left in gear on a downgrade, with wheels slightly turned. All Denny had to do was press the gas pedal with his foot and hold the wheel. The tractor kept right on going. He loved the loud noise it made.


Den
-ny!
Den
-ny!” screamed Aunt Etta, wringing her hands.

She was ready to dash out in front of the lunging machine, but Mom pulled her back.

“Don't be foolish,” called Mom. “The men will stop it. The men will get him off.”

“He'll hit something!” screamed Aunt Etta. “He'll be killed!”

Mom put her arms around Aunt Etta and told her not to look. Over at the barn door, the children were crying with fright. Dick ran across in front of the tractor, hoping to hop on after it passed. He narrowly escaped being hit. He had to go and lean against the barn door to get his breath. His heart was pounding. The tractor was going in bursts of speed, now faster, then slower, then faster. Denny was frightened now. He had let go of the wheel and was hanging onto the seat with both hands.

“Stand still, Denny! Don't move!” called Uncle Henry. “Daddy's coming.”

Dad shouted to Raymond. It was Raymond with his long legs who got there first, leaped on from the rear and stopped the engine. The next minute, the tractor banged into the broad side of the barn. It broke the siding into splinters and went halfway in. But Denny was safe. Raymond had leaped off just in time, with the boy in his arms.

They all crowded round Denny, and, like a baby, he was passed from arm to arm. His tears were soon dried and he smiled broadly, happy to again be the center of attention.

“I can drive Daddy's new tractor, can't I, Mom?” he bragged.

Aunt Etta smothered him in kisses.

“Better give him the spanking he deserves,” said Dad.

“I told you,” said Uncle Henry, “these modern kids can drive by instinct. You don't need to teach them how.”

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