Dusty gravel roads
Near swaths of ripening wheat
-Father’s furrowed brow

                              -Clarence Holm

I think of my father, especially when I am trying to solve a problem that requires some patience. When all seems lost, I think back to my days on the farm, remembering the endless chores and the way my father attacked them day after day after day. Dad’s stoic acceptance of running a small farm with old equipment held together with bailing wire and cardboard gaskets, in a weather cycle that didn’t produce enough rain to parch the sandy soil, taught me that even in a losing effort there are battles to be won.

Though our family gardens were doomed to be raided by the neighbor’s pigs and the Massey Harris combine and the old John Deere tractor were unwilling farm servants, dad always found ways to persevere. Even when most sane men would throw in the towel, his stubborn Midwestern will would drive him through the crisis.

I remember lots of happy times too. Noon-time meals with the entire family sitting down to meat and potatoes, covered in gravy served with Mom’s fresh white bread on a plate in the middle of the table. I loved hearing his lunch time dreams of tomorrow, when the next harvest would run over our bins.

I remember him during those times of joy and sadness and wish I could stand near him again to walk in those fields of Dakota. Even though Dad rests in peace, I just wanted to say just one more time, Happy Fathers’ Day dad; I love you this much.

Prompt For Ronovan’s Friday Fiction Challenge #6

Challenge This Week: Write about a family gathering. No Word Count limit this week, just no book lengths please.

Sunday Papers Spread Across Saturday’s Floor

Sundays are special!  We considered them a day of rest from the normal farm chores, other than milking and tending the animals. Sundays included driving to Fingal for the parish service and returning home to sit down to a meal. Mom and my sister worked long hours preparing the best meal of the week. Next Sunday was going to be extra special. Our parish priest, Father Koehler, would be coming to our farm to spend the day.

Father Koehler’s house keeper told us that he was coming. That simple statement ignited frenzy in my family’s world. There was no greater honor, than hosting the priest for a meal. A Sunday Dinner was more than mom could have imagined.

Everything would have to be perfect. We would be eating in the dining room, with the table fully extended. We brought Great Grandma’s white linen table-cloth out of the cedar chest and ironed it to perfection. The family polished the silver along with a laundry list of chores given to every member. No detail of the preparation was left to chance.

The boys washed windows, dusted lights, and polished wooden furniture. Dad caught, dispatched, plucked, and butchered three spring chickens. We dug fresh potatoes, snapped string beans, and brought canned red beets out of the cellar. Everything had to be perfect!

Saturday arrived with one last major project to be completed. The linoleum covered kitchen floor. For those not familiar with that old floor covering, it was a hard brittle surface that showed scuffs and always needed a fresh coat of wax to avoid looking dull. It was a three-hour chore that no self-respecting woman would omit. So just after lunch mom put water on the stove to heat (We had no indoor plumbing) and moved the kitchen table and chairs to the hall.

With hot water, lye based soap, and back-breaking strokes mom scrubbed and waxed the floor. To protect her work she spread newspapers all over the linoleum to keep dirty foot prints at bay. God help the man who would accidentally blunder off the newspapers and leave a track.

The day of Father Koehler’s visit had arrived. Mom’s day of rest began at sun up, with fresh pies in the oven and white bread rising on the mantle. Dad and the older boys went to milk the cows and feed the animals. An hour before mass, we did our final clean up and put on our Sunday Go-to-Meeting clothing. With the meal set to low, all eight of us loaded into Buick. We drove the five miles to church where we march down the aisle to our pew. We stood taller knowing that so many in the church knew that Father Koehler was coming to our farm after church today.

After church we hurried home to set the table and make sure the meal was ready.  Eager to be out-of-the-way, we boys waited outside for Father Koehler arrival. Our mouths watered just thinking of the food inside. We also knew that after the meal, we would clear the table to make room for the Royal Rummy Game and the piles of pennies we would bet.

Father Koehler spent the entire afternoon and most of the night laughing, talking and playing cards. By the end of the evening he had successfully cleaned out our penny supply and deposited them into his coin bag. He laughed as he thanked us for the donation to his cause that he stuffed in his jacket. It was his standard joke; everyone knew he used the money to fund the summer bible school.

Our family waved goodbye as father’s car drove down the prairie road back to Fingal.

Life on the farm was hard, but pleasant recollections stand out the best. Good food and good times are always the best memories.

-Clarence Holm


My Father—

I loved my father. As a young child, I sought his constant attention. Unfortunately, while living on the Cuba, ND farm, there was very little time for that. Dad’s day began long before sun up and ended well after the sun went down. When I did see him it was during lunch and dinner breaks. During the crop season those breaks were likely to take place in the field, that way the work could keep going with the least amount of crop time wasted.Clarence L Holm

In the stretch between the sowing and reaping, there were many other chores to be done. Those chores included tilling, bailing, rock picking, tending the farm animals or repairing machinery that had too many years of use.

There were two particular occasions that I remembered being alone with my father. The first time was when we were walking the electric fence line, looking for breaks or something on the line, grounding it out. When the electric fence was either broken or grounded out, the cattle could wander out of the pasture into the neighboring fields. Cows on the loose could do a lot of damage to the neighbor’s crops. When an electric fence was working you could sometimes feel the hum in the line. When it was off, the cattle knew it and immediately took advantage of it to stray.

On that particular occasion we were approximately a quarter-mile from home when we heard my mother’s scream. We could tell it was not the normal “I’m going to tan your backside off when I catch you scream” it was a hideous screech of pain! This was a sound that reached down your spine and surged into your shoes, making you run faster and farther than you ever thought you could! When we reached the wooden steps leading to the back door, my mother was in the kitchen standing motionless, with her hand bundled in a towel and my sister, Joanne, standing there pale as could be. Joanne seemed to come out of her shock and explain that mom had got her had stuck in the electric mixer. The mixer was an older white Sunbeam that was built for large batches of cookies and a careless moment had pulled her fingers in, stripping them of flesh and in the process wrapping the bones between the beaters.

It was only by unplugging the machine and releasing the beaters that my sister had gotten my mother’s hand out. It seemed like only a second or two before Dad and Joanne led mom into the red and white Ford for the 15 mile sprint down the gravel roads to Valley City and the hospital.

Later that evening, they returned with mom sporting bandages and reporting the number of stitches it had taken to piece her hand back together. Mom was not squeamish about sharing the gruesome details of her surgeries the doctors has performed or the scars that resulted. She often displayed her oddly bent fingers as her proud battle scars for the rest of her days. They were her living testimony of her time taking care of her children on the farm.

On a different occasion my father and I were out together, inspecting the fields. It was a hot July and we had no rain throughout that stifling summer. As we bounces across the furrows, the hot sun beat down on us and dust clouds billowed behind our old blue farm truck. Even with the windows rolled down the heat stung our lungs and made the distance horizon dance as the noontime sun reflected off the ground, bending the air.

When we reached the field, even a 9-year-old could see, the barley was not right. The golden stalks were only 3 to 6 inches tall with heads that only contained a few shriveled kernels. If that weren’t bad enough, there were just a few of those pitiful plants in a square yard. And, it was not just this area, it was the entire field. As a child, it didn’t occur to me that this draught had affected the entire farm. I didn’t comprehend the larger picture, that there would be no harvest this year. No money for next years seed, no money to keep repairing the John Deere, no money for fuel oil to try to warm the main floor of our farm home! It was one of the few times, I remembered my father crying, even though he tried to hide it from me.

That summer’s draught ended our time on the farm and released us from our legacy of share cropping the family farm. The land we had worked was turned over to my Uncle. The implements my father had worked so hard to keep running were either hauled off as scrap to pay of some of the debt we had accumulated or were traded for something that might be off use in the city. My father could have declared bankruptcy, but he believed that he had a duty to make sure that everyone we owed was paid off in full. It took him well over a decade to do it!