Tuesday, July 1, 2014

B96. Grandma Remembers Corn Harvest and Corn Shuckings

My Grandma Vestal was born July 4, 1914, exactly 100 years ago this week. In 1994, at the age of 80, five years prior to her transition, she wrote a column of  memories for the local newspaper about her childhood near Boonville, NC.  I don't know how many articles she wrote, but I have copies of three and would love for any family members who have others to share them with me.  Leading up to her 100th birthday, I will post a series of these stories, beginning with this one, published Sept. 21, 1994.  Grandma said:

On a small acreage farm - maybe less than 10 acres in corn - picking the crop in fall was another family job.  Daddy would hitch up the mules to our wagon which he drove to the field.  He had sideboards he fitted to the wagon bed for hauling large loads.  When corn-picking time came, both boards could be used on one side of the wagon.  Pickers worked on the lower side so the ears of corn could be thrown against the high sides instead of going "overboard" to land on the ground.

Pickers wore long sleeves and gloves because the dried stalks and shucks on the corn were very rough and scratchy.  This was hard work and sometimes cold weather would catch us still in the field.

There was some fun too.  Being the youngest and not weighing a lot, I was allowed to ride to the barn on top of the corn! Then it was exciting to see the corn sliding out the back of the wagon as my dad and brother shoveled it out in a long large pile in the barnyard where a corn shucking would soon take place.

Corn husking, or as it is commonly called, shucking, was another community thing usually held at night, but if cold weather caught us too late, afternoons were better.  Men would swap work at this time.  Once in a while women would also help.  Around their hand, every worker wore a leather strap with a steel hook in the center of the palm.  when raked across the ear of corn it would tear the tough shuck and make removing it easy and very fast work.

Sometimes farmers would ask teen-agers to help, both boys and girls. The seed corn used back then would once in a while produce some ears of red corn.  The attraction at these times was a rule that any boy finding a red ear of corn could kiss the prettiest girl present.  I always wished Daddy would have a corn "party," but he never did.

What we did, and most farmers had, was a pie supper after the work was done.  Women of the family would spend the entire day baking pies.  Pumpkin, apple, and sweet potato were the favorites but sometimes there were fancy ones with meringue on top.

I have a niece only six months younger than I, and it was our job to fill a big wash tub about half full of warm water and put out plenty of soap and towels for the men to wash up before coming in to eat. I can remember seeing our long dining table completely covered in pies with more in the kitchen.  About 20 hungry men could soon take care of them.

Another fun thing about these workings, especially if they were at night, several mothers would come and bring the little ones to visit while the men worked.  Older children would play outside and sometimes Mama's bed would be filled with sleeping little ones.  I have fond memories of this.

The next morning after the corn shucking, what a pretty sight! On one side of the empty space where the men worked was a great pile of white corn. On the other side, a huge pile of fresh clean shucks.  Now another busy day was waiting.  Not only at the barn, but also at the house, for today a full meal must be ready for another work day.

This work was done by the men in the family and maybe a neighbor or two who were swapping work so as to have help with their own work. As Daddy was a sharecropper, every bushel of corn had to be measured.  Owners were able to just shovel it into the crib.

Usually two men carried a big washtub full of corn to a nearby crib, and at every third one a mark was made on the crib door for rent. Daddy always bought this third from the landowner when he settled up. There was also a shuck pen nearby, and the shucks were stored for feeding the livestock on the farm.  There was no rent for this. This was fun.

Everyone, even the children, could carry a big armful into the shed. Sometimes baby kittens were found here. Also hens would steal nests inside to lay their eggs when they found a corner nearby empty.

Photo: Grandma 1984, age 70

Related posts:
B10: Grandma's Childhood Memories
B11.  Grandma's Childhood World
B12. Grandma's Childhood: Memories of Family
B13. Grandma's Birth and Ancestry
B14.  Grandma's Special Memories and Favorite Pastimes
B15.  Grandma Meets Grandpa
B16.  Grandma's Kitchen
B17.  Grandma: Children, Grandchildren, and Random Musings

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