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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Walkin' the Beans"

Recently, I was visiting with a friend and her daughter about what they had been doing the day before.  With a sigh, her daughter told me that they had been working outside.  She seemed to think that whenever her dad was home on a Saturday, all they did was "work."  I told her that it may seem tough now, but those times will be good memories for her later.

This led me to start thinking about some of my own memories of childhood--when the "work" we did as a family seemed never-ending.  Things like painting the house, shingling the garage roof, and canning jam came to mind.  However, I think one of my favorite family work traditions would be "walking the beans."

I grew up on a small farm in south-central Kansas.  (Read:  more rain than what we get here in western Kansas!)  I prided myself on knowing a little bit about farming when I was dating and later married to my husband.  However, I learned that what I thought was a large field was, in fact, just a small patch in western-Kansas terms.

Enter "The Forty."  "The Forty" was what we called the forty-acre irrigated field  located a half mile south of the home place.  It was here that we planted soybeans every year.  I remember helping Mom set out the irrigation pipe and take it back up yearly.  Another time of what felt like endless work, but that's a story for a later date.

When the soybeans were small, Mom would control the weeds by carefully driving a small tractor through them with a cultivator attached.  The cultivator consisted of several rows of  large "hooks" which would uproot the weeds in between the rows.  Needless to say, inadvertently swerving while cultivating is a bad idea!

When the soybeans got bigger, cultivating them with a tractor was not an option.  So, we would walk the beans.  Mom, Dad, Todd (my older brother) and I would each walk down a row of beans about six rows apart from each other.  And, you guessed it, we would pull the weeds.  My big-acreage western Kansas farmer husband looked at me like I was crazy when I told him about this!
We would look across the rows for our enemy--velvetleaf and shattercane weeds.  When we spotted them, we would pull them up.  As a grade-schooler, I found this to be tough work.  Some of the weeds were up to my shoulder, and it was all I could do to get them to come loose.  I remember occasionally falling over as the roots of my leafy foe gave way.

So we would walk down one row and then another until the entire forty acre field had been gone over.  We battled the heat, the itchy plants, the bugs, and, for me, exhaustion and just plain being mad that I was out there in a field pulling weeds.  All in all, I think it took us about a day, maybe a day and a half to get through this chore.  It felt like FOREVER to me, though.

Time and age have a way of making things look different than they do at the time.  I remember singing crazy songs as a family while we worked.  I remember helping each other by pointing out a weed that had been missed along the way.  I remember the joy of the air-conditioned house when we went home for lunch and later quit for the day.

At the time, it was a misery to be endured.  Now, it is one of the memories I treasure.  Funny how that works, isn't it?


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