Thankful for Thanksgiving

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It’s that time of year again when we Americans are spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about an overstuffed bird who is sitting in a small, hot box. We collectively watch with abject fascination as the bird stews in its own juices.

But enough about the Kardashians. It’s also Thanksgiving, that traditional holiday wherein we pause to give thanks for having such vast amounts of food that many of us bear a close resemblance to the Michelin tire guy.

Thanksgiving is about more than stuffing ourselves silly. It’s also about history, a time to pause and remember that historical day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus stood on Plymouth Rock and uttered those immortal words, “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth … hey, please pass the gravy.”

One of the things I’m personally thankful for is the fact that history is in the past. This is because the “good old days” weren’t always all that good.

Corn picking would be a good example of this. When I was a pup, Dad, like most farmers back then, harvested ear corn with a two-row pull-type picker. This machine harvested corn at a speed one might associate with Peter Piper picking pecks of pickled peppers. Comparing a two-row corn picker to a modern, computer-controlled (no actual operator required) grain combine would be like comparing a Geo Metro to a Formula One racecar.

But Dad told me we should simply be thankful that we didn’t have to pick all that corn by hand. Dad and I would take turns driving the picker, piloting our cab-less John Deere A tractor up and down the endless rows as the wind’s icy stiletto relentlessly probed for chinks in our clothing.

The main reason we took turns was that while one guy picked, the other guy got to unload the wagon. I say “got to” because shoveling ear corn out the back of the wagon and into the clattering old Kelly Ryan elevator gave the shoveler an opportunity to warm up.

But Dad said we should just be thankful that we had an elevator and didn’t have to hand-shovel all that corn into the crib. We generally didn’t shell our corn, instead opting to grind the whole ears, transforming them into feed for our herd of 35 Holsteins.

I was thankful for the absence of a corn cob pile. This spared me from hearing yet again that shopworn old quip about how, back in the day, there was always a basket of white corn cobs in the outhouse along with a basket of red cobs because using a white cob would tell you if you needed to use another red one.

Winter arrived before Thanksgiving one autumn. We still had a large field of corn to pick, so Dad decided that we should save time by cribbing the corn on the headland. We were thankful when we got the job done just before a ferocious blizzard roared across the prairie, halting all fieldwork until spring.

But there was a problem. Storing our corn on the headland meant that we had to grind feed out on the headland. During the summertime, the field was located about a mile from our farmstead. It was approximately ten times that distance in the depths of winter.

Dad said I should be thankful that at least he had a warm pickup to ride in as he tooled along behind me as I drove our old (and cab-less) Farmall 560 and feed grinder out to the field.

Once there, I would fire up the grinder mixer and proceed to shovel ear corn into its insatiable auger. Dad would dump in bags of protein concentrate and minerals before quickly retreating to the warmth of the pickup cab. As he did so, he would remind me that I should be thankful for the new shovel he had just purchased, a shiny aluminum model with a keen cutting edge that would make shoveling easier. He would also remind me to be careful with the shovel and not bang it up.

Thankfully, those days are now history. For me, Thanksgiving no longer means shoveling ear corn in freezing temperatures. Thanksgiving has mainly become an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family while gobbling mass quantities of roast gobbler.

And let me say this to you video game-addicted whippersnappers who think it’s the world’s most irksome chore to spend Thanksgiving listening to your stodgy old relatives drone on and on about the old days: Come over to my house and I will show you my video game.

It’s called Etch A Sketch, and I am very thankful for it.

Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works full time for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at jerry.n@dairystar.com.

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