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.
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!