Farm In Northern Colorado
East of Fort Collins,
1940s and 50s
Because of the continued interest in the “olden days” especially in the fall and harvest time, this story seems to be appropriate for the time of year.
My sister Ginger reminded me that when the Jamaicans were hired to hoe and top beets, she and Sonny (brother, John Jr.) would take water out to the fields so they would receive Jamaican pennies for the service. That was so much fun collecting money, they overdid the chore. The pleasant smiling Jamaicans would stand up and say “Bellies full-no more water” as they rubbed their tummies.
She also remembers how tall they were with their long arms. They preferred short handled hoes to hoe the beets and really didn’t seem to bend over, but worked through the field singing their songs in a rhythm all their own. We would sit out on the back porch steps and listen to them sing. Mom would keep a close eye on us because they were strangers and Dad did not want curious little kids interfering with the work force!
She also remembers the stinky beet pulp that Dad got from the sugar factory each night, being so wet that it leaked out of the truck bed and froze onto the highway between the factory and home, making it very dangerous to drive.
In early years of farming Dad leased the farm from a man named Sam Kemp, who sold Japanese white popcorn to Safeway. Dad continued to do that for a few years, putting the corn in blue colored cans that were labeled Kemp Korn. My brother John still has one of the cans sitting on his desk
Before the big corn sheller machine arrived, we would gather a few bushels of corn and on a sunny warm fall day, Mom would take one of her old sheets and lay it under the clothes line and we would sit on the sheet, each with a bushel of corn to be shelled. This must be how the Indians did it we would say. We felt very important setting cross-legged on the ground rubbing dried corn ears together and watching the corn fly around, landing on the sheet and the chaff, the particles in the dust from the corn, fly away in the breeze.
We would listen to “Dad stories” and join in with his singing to make this task more pleasant. When the bushels were finely empty, Mom and Dad would gather up the corners of the sheet, jiggle it into a pile. Dad would scoop it into a gunnysack that was placed on the back porch for all our neighbors to buy “John’s Popcorn.” Dad would mostly give it away but Mom always charged a quarter for a big gallon paper sack. I met most of our neighbors coming to buy “John’s popcorn.” It is a fond memory of how pleasant those hard-working, very dedicated, smiling farmers were. They always had a story or two to tell about their crops. Us kids always stood around to listen to every word. Time to go, they would shake Dad’s hand, tip their hat to Mom, pat and rub each one of us on the head, as they headed for the car with their big sack of pop corn. Then we listened to an exchange of comments Mom and Dad made to each other as we drove out the drive way. Seeing our neighbors once or twice a year is a lasting memory in my life.
Some farmers grew potatoes in place of beets and for three or four years in a row, potatoes were in excess. The government paid potato farmers to get rid of this surplus. They were sprayed purple and given to the dairy and cattle farmers for food for the cows. The potatoes had to be ground up first because the cow would get half or a whole potato caught in its throat and choke to death. Sonny and my job was to grind the potatoes. We would throw the potatoes into a hopper that ground them and then fell out into a wheelbarrow, which Dad would take and dump into the feed trough for the cattle. The government warned that the potatoes were not edible with the purple dye on them, but Mom just peeled it off and we had “potatoes everything” for quite some time!
Some years Dad would take green corn from the field and make it into silage that was stored in a big long silo that was dug deep and wide into the ground. That was fed to the cows also. So with the corn put up, the hay baled or stacked in the field and the beets out of the ground and Mom had canned the fruits and vegetables and put home grown meat in the freezer, it did not matter if we did not get to town to buy groceries. We were set for the winter.
In fall and winter months, we would gather around the kitchen table on a Sunday night after Dad announced to Mom that he was “cooking Sunday supper.” He would get out the big cast-iron skillet, put a big tablespoon of bacon grease in it, wait until it got smoky hot, pour in a big cup of his pop corn, quickly put a lid on the skillet, shake it he vigorously until he could not hear any more popping and pour the popped corn into the big dishpan waiting on the table. He repeated this until the dishpan was full of corn. Then he scooped three or four more generous spoonfuls of bacon grease and lots and lots of butter into the hot skillet, waited until is melted and little brown. Dad loved the flavor of a “little brown butter,” poured over the popcorn, sprinkled with salt, then stirred and toss with a wooden spoon.
We each got big bowls of popcorn (Mom got the first bowl) dipped out by Dad, after one of us was told to go to the basement and get Grandpa’s apples to go with our Sunday supper. This is a great part of my memory to this day, when I have popcorn once or twice a week I recall how good those cold apples from Grandpa’s orchard were and the popcorn oozing with brown butter and bacon grease. And I will never forget the great stories that Dad had to tell us about his adventures of the past week.
Thank you again for all your comments and smiles as you recall your childhood. I enjoy them all!
Happy 96th Birthday Aunt Alma!