With Part 1 of this “story”, I left you with “When Grandma asked me if I’d like to join them the summer of 1974, I JUMPED on the idea. I’ll turn that part of my story into Part 2.” I was SO EXCITED when Grandma asked me if I’d want to go – I was 12 years old in 1974. I think I was most excited about the idea of getting to spend time with her and Grandpa. Staying in the trailer house and keeping the floors cleaned came in at a close second. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Maybe it was just the “smallness” of it. I don’t remember much about my first year on the road with Grandpa and Grandma but I’ll try to dig into that cobweb filled memory closet of mine and see what I can pull out. One of my favorite memories riding with Grandma was listening to the radio. She was so good about letting me listen to “my” music for 15 minutes and then it was “her” music for 15 minutes. I can still hear her singing “her” music! And to this day, every time I hear something that she enjoyed singing, it makes me think of her. A couple of her favorite sayings…”stop and smell the roses” and “one day at a time”!
Grandma did all the laundry for the crew and fed them every meal. We were also in charge of cleaning the crew trailer once in a while. Guess it came as part of the “room and board” package. The only way to get the laundry done at that time was the local laundromat. Sometimes that meant a drive to the next town. It seemed like that chore was an all day affair. We’d also have to take in the grocery store and any other incidental at the same time. It never failed…if it was going to rain, it was going to rain on the way home with clean clothes safely tucked in laundry baskets – in the back of the pickup. If I was really lucky, Grandma and I would hit a Pizza Hut for lunch (she loved the thin crust pizza) and a “black cow” (root beer float) before heading back to camp. Grandma LOVED to shop and since I was the only girl she had gotten to shop for (she had two sons and my two brothers, at the time) I was spoiled. Grandma did a fine job, though, of teaching me to head immediately for the sale rack. It was always fun walking away with more than you could ever imagine for the money spent. (I’ve passed this along to my daughters too.)
One laundromat story sticks out above the others. On this particular day, we had an exceptional amount of clothes to wash. And it was one of the hotter days of the summer so we were trying to get finished and get the heck out of the hot laundromat. Our clothes were finally next in line for the dryers. After throwing the guys’ clothes in, we stepped outside to find a little relief from the heat. After being outside for twenty minutes or so, we went back in to see where we were with dryness, etc. The laundromat smelled weird. When Grandma opened one of the driers that had “our” clothes in it we knew where the unique odor was coming from! I’m thinking Grandma must have known what may have been the culprit as she immediately started checking jean pockets. It was in the pocket of one of our truck drivers that held the bag of “ditch weed”. Apparently he had forgotten to take his freshly harvested stash out of his pants pocket before we gathered them that morning. Oh my gosh…Grandma was LIVID! I don’t remember if there were consequences for his actions or not – that was left up to Grandpa. It certainly provided a memory for a 12 year old kid!
Another one that stuck with me was the time the young sacker at the grocery store called Grandma a “wheatie”. That was NOT the thing to call her! At that time, the custom harvester was still struggling with a not-so-good reputation. We were in the same category as the “carney” (the carnival worker). We were those nomadic people who had a reputation of getting into trouble. Grandma always dressed nice and carried herself with a sense of confidence and pride for who she was and what she did. She was NOT a wheatie! I heard about that for several days.
I learned how to drive a stick shift service pickup in the wheat fields. Grandpa very briefly showed me how it was done and then said, “follow us!” I had now become the official service-truck-mover when it was time to move from field to field. However, whenever someone else drove that pickup, I never heard the engine make as much noise as it did when I was driving. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to how others drove it did I realize I was supposed to let up on the gas when I stepped in on the clutch.
This official title ultimately became the demise of being Grandma’s helper. I fell in love with being in the field with the equipment…especially the combine. Grandpa showed me how to run the combine that summer and it has been my passion ever since. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the cab of that monster. I think it was the feeling of accomplishing something when the field was reduced to stubble. And thus began the addiction!
The next summer was the year I met Jim for the first time. His mom and my mom worked together at the local Ben Franklin store. I had heard about Jim but never met him. I remember when we picked him up that day to take him to Grandpa and Grandma’s house it was instant crush! Yes…I was all of 13. Jim went as Grandpa’s hired man the next summer, as well. We began dating when I was a sophomore in high school and in 1982, seven years after we met for the first time, we were married. Hazards of the trade, I guess. I remember Grandma saying to me one day with a lot of emotion, “whatever you do, DON’T marry a harvester!” Jim will tell you when we got married he wasn’t a harvester – he was an electrician.
We were married in April 1982. At that time, Dad was attempting to take over Grandpa’s business. Prior to doing this, Dad had been working a civil service job at the Air Force Base for as long as I could remember. Dad and Grandpa approached us with the idea of buying a combine and helping them out. There would be room for another combine, if we wanted to.
Jim was a saver of his money. So, when we got married, we had a good start for our brand new life together. We were both working full time and renting an apartment in Omaha. Pretty easy life – one just like everyone else. After the business proposal was put in front of us, we talked about the possibility. We both really loved being involved with the harvest. It was agreed that we’d purchase a used Massey Ferguson combine and the necessary truck and combine trailer to make it all work. I agreed to stay home and work my full time job (with my head hanging, of course). Jim wanted to make sure we would have a steady income for paying bills while we got started.
Our first job was for a farmer near his sister’s house and involved cutting soybeans and milo. We were on our way to becoming harvesters. While Jim was working that fall as a harvester, he stayed with his sister. The job had him nearly 50 miles south of the apartment. I would go visit over the weekend. I remember how hard it was for me to leave the activity of the fall harvest on Monday mornings to go sit at a desk!
The hardest day of my life happened in June 1983. This was when the harvesters loaded up the combines and began their trek for Oklahoma without me. I knew it was going to be tough…I just never realized how tough! I had agreed to remain in our apartment, my desk job and health insurance. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I was loading the car and heading to wherever they could be found. I was able to convince my boss to give me a month leave of absence so I could take the Greyhound bus to Miles City, Montana and remain until harvest was over. I was so thankful for that man! And for the opportunity to join up with the crew for thirty days. The bus ride took 23 hours. What an interesting experience that was!
The 1983 fall harvest was horrible! Good thing I had that full time job. Jim had a tough time finding work that winter. He did whatever he could to make a buck. He sold Christmas trees for a month. When that was done, we became janitors for a couple of dance studios. I don’t remember if he was able to do part time electrician work that winter or not. It was a test…one of many!
To be continued…