“You watch for the big hand to be on the twelve and the little hand to be on the four.” My sister Dorothy remembers Dad explaining how she would know when to bring lunch out to the field. Barely five and the only one available that summer afternoon, she took her responsibility seriously. Sitting at the kitchen table, she stared up at the round metallic clock on the wall. The seconds ticked away, but to a young child the hands moved at a snail’s pace. Finally, it was four o’clock and she grabbed the bucket and, blonde braids bouncing, she skipped up the gravel road. The girl and her farmer father sat and talked in the shade of the tractor tire while he ate his bologna sandwich and drank homemade lemonade from a quart jar. When it was time to get back on the tractor, they hid the pail in the grass next to a wooden fence post, then Dad lifted Dorothy up on the tractor. Legs tucked under the steering rod, she happily rode with him once around the field.
Our mother, directly involved in the farm operation, also took her job seriously. Lunches to the guys in the field always included dessert, usually homemade cookies stacked in a small coffee can. On cool days, our father savored hot coffee from a thermos. When we girls were the lunch bearers, we often came home with an orange Kool Aid mustache. No matter how warm the South Dakota sun, nor how far we walked, we all enjoyed lunch break.
Waiting in the grassy fence rows for the steady putt-putt sound of the approaching tractor, we inevitably found something interesting to watch. If the guys were plowing, graceful white gulls flitted and swirled around the plow, scooping up earthworms from the freshly turned soil. Striped gophers chattered their alarm call as they scooted down their holes. A mound of soft black soil protruded like a small mountain beside a badger burrow.
Mom relished the time, too. Sometimes she walked with us but more often drove to the field. My brother Delmer reminisces that when it got to be mid-afternoon he started watching for the light blue pickup to drive in as he approached the end of the field on each round. With a smile, she lugged the parcels, pleased to spend time with her son. When Mom brought lunch to Dad, she listened to his update of progress and they made plans for the next day; it was a peaceful time spent together.
Many years later, my siblings and I treasure fond memories of the days of the afternoon lunch breaks, a part of farm life. Our less-active lifestyles no longer require the extra energy of a snack to sustain us until dinner, though each day at four o’clock I strangely find myself hungry for one of Mom’s chocolate chip cookies! Looking back, I realize that the lunches in the field were not so much about the food. As youngsters, we witnessed and became a part of a thoughtful, caring ritual that spoke volumes. The folks knew lunch in the field provided a needed break from the round-after-round monotony for the farmer. Lessons in nature and quality time with Dad nurtured us as we grew, and we learned the value of communication, one-on-one, face-to-face, uninterrupted conversation. In today’s world that is definitely food for thought.