Writer Author Jean Madigan
- Fiction No
"Get them apples peeled, and rhubarb cut, now!” Ma yelled. "Them pies have to be baked by dinner time."
Peeling apples made my fingers look brown, and feel puckered. I didn’t like doing it.
Ma continued her tirade with my sisters.” Carol, you go out and pick peas, and get a lot of them. Del, you clean up the living room."
"Ma, they won't be going in the living room," Del protested.
"I don't care," Ma insisted, "I don't want them going home and telling Mrs. Ramer, and Mrs. Kraum that I have a messy house. By the way, Jeanie, you better go down the basement, and see to it that there's fresh soap, and a new roller towel, so the men can wash up."
I went, but I grumbled all the way.
We had to peel about fifty potatoes, shell the peas, and wash the dishes before dinner, so the men couldn't tell their wives that Ursula Owens had a dirty kitchen. Personally, I didn't think the men gave two hoots about that kind of thing.
We always had a fight about who would shell peas, peel potatoes, etc. Ma was in charge of cooking the two kinds of meat that she felt were mandatory for a proper thresher's meal. She also made two loaves of crusty, golden-brown bread, from scratch, each day we fed the crew. I think farm wives compete to see who can set the most lavish table, have the cleanest house, and...you get the idea.
Ma barks orders like an army colonel, because its threshing time again. Everything has to be just perfect. There's no living with her, unless you do it her way.
I'm Jeanie Owens, and every July and August, I wish I were eighteen, so I could move off this farm, and avoid threshing, haymaking, and all of the yearly farm chores.
They all involved my doing a lot of work for some old guys who think it’s my duty to be nice to them.
We live in southern Minnesota, where the fields are pancake flat, and where the crickets are the only amusement around. "Here they come," I said, peeking through the calico kitchen curtains. The four threshers and my Dad walked slowly up the driveway, into the house, and down the basement to wash for dinner.
Ma said, "Get outta there, Jeanie, they'll see you," and shoved me away from the window.
They all sat down at the table, and I could smell the lava soap they used. Their hair was all slicked down, and their shirtsleeves were rolled up to their elbows. We had to serve them, and then just sit around waiting for them to finish, so we could eat, if there was anything left. Sometimes, there wasn't much.
"Sure are nice, fluffy potatoes, Missus," says Mr. Kraum.
Ma beamed as if he'd promised her an Amana range. "Well, I try," she said, a smug look on her face.
One time, old Doc Trumble sat at the table. He took out a big red handkerchief, wiped under his arms, then whirled it around. My sisters and I ran for the upstairs hallway, and let out whoops of laughter. Later, Ma said he did the whirly thing so his handkerchief would dry. The smell of fresh, strong sweat at the table while people ate was so disgusting!
Ma looked satisfied, as the men left the table. "I see they ate all the squash, peas, and mashed potatoes. There's no pie left, either."
"Naturally!” I groaned. I loved pie, especially Ma's rhubarb pie. Of course they WOULD scoff THAT up! As the pie was baking this morning, the smell wafted over the hot kitchen air, and my mouth watered.
"What about us, Ma? We worked our buns off this morning, so we should at least be able to eat some of the food we helped fix," we chorused.
She looked at us with brown eyes flashing like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.
"Well, for corn sake, kids, they work hard all day, they gotta eat," Ma said, indignant. "I don't know what you kids expect me to do. I'm on my feet all day, and its like pulling teeth getting you to do anything. Mrs. Kraum's girls do all the housework and cooking. Drucilla doesn't have to lift a finger. I should be so lucky!" She brushed a dark lock of hair from her forehead, and started crying. Man,how I hated that! Ma was only forty, but she looked more like sixty,old and tired today. Who wouldn't! She was overweight, but I guess it must have been all that cooking, for so many years.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," I said, and put my arm around her, but I was still mad about missing my pie.
We had to hurry up and eat, then wash dishes, so we could have a little time to ourselves, before preparing the three p.m. lunch for the men. Then we drew straws to see who would be the lucky girl taking lunch out to the men. Mind you, they ate a huge dinner at noon!
Lunch consisted of fifteen sandwiches, cake, cookies, coffee and lemonade. Then you sat there until they finished, and lugged the basket back to the house, where Ma would agonize over what they ate, or failed to eat.
"They didn't eat my date bars," she wailed.
"So?” I said, "maybe they don't like dates.”
She gave me a dirty look, and snatched the basket from me, flouncing off to the kitchen.
Last year, when it was my time to make the field trip, Mr. Ramer tried putting his pudgy, fat hands on my breasts. The other men pretended they hadn't seen it, but I know they did, they were sitting right there.
Ramer was at least forty, and had a grizzled face, with red lips, much like "Grandpa,” of the "Munsters.” His stomach hung over his belt, like a big pumpkin, and his fingernails looked like he was picking dirt with the chickens; it was sickening.
I didn't dare talk back to him, or tell him to buzz off; it was 1946. I couldn't let him get away with it, either. I pretended to stumble over a rock and spilled hot coffee on him where it mattered the most. He danced like a banty-rooster all around where the men were sitting.
I said, sweetly, "Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Ramer, are you hurt?"
His face was fiery red, and he avoided looking at me. "No, I'm okay."
When I got back to the house, I told Ma and my sisters what happened. My sisters roared about the spilled coffee part, but Ma begged," Don't tell Dad, you know his temper."
"I'm not going back out there, if Ramer's going to be here again," I insisted. "He's a pig."
"We gotta get along here," Ma whined. "We depend on other families to help out with threshing, and other big jobs. Dad can't do it all himself."
I just turned and walked away. Yeah, I knew my Dad's temper. It didn't take much to get him steamed. Once, I complained about his dragging smelly manure all over the kitchen floor while I was washing it. He screamed at me, took the harness strap down from its hook and gave me three resounding whacks on my butt. It left welts, and I really resented that. Dirty dishes piled high in the sink, like some trash mountain, reminding me it was my turn for that, too. The wood-burning range needed stoked, but that was someone else's job.
After finishing my chores, I went into the living room, where my sisters and I often languished, with our feet thrown over the arms of the couch, and the two easy chairs. We spent many a hilarious hour in that room, chortling about the threshers, and their weird ways. As I sat there, thinking of all the work we did, I
decided, no way was I ever going to marry a farmer!
Every summer night, my sisters, and I went for bike rides, and sometimes, we sat outside, looking at the stars, and listening for the train whistle that mournfully sounded twice a day. I always felt restless, when I heard that whistle, and fantasized that I was on the train, speeding away from here, to some glamorous
Ma never told Dad about what Ramer did to me. It wasn't long after that incident, that I turned eighteen, and hopped a bus, bound for California. Ma wrote to me later, to tell me that Clarence Ramer was convicted of child molestation, the very next year. The girl he molested was a year younger than I was, and it happened during threshing time.
Now that I’m a Christian, I’ve forgiven those threshers; they were uneducated, and unsaved. As far as I know, the ones still alive are still unsaved.
My parents are both deceased, and now I know they did the best they could, with what they had. Jesus taught me to forgive others or I wouldn’t be forgiven.
Over the years, the Holy Spirit has changed my heart from one of resentment and self-pity, to a heart filled with His peace and understanding.
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