Two days of sustained 40 mile-per-hour winds. “Gusts up to 50 miles-per-hour,” the weather radio droned this morning. “A wind advisory….” How long could it continue?
No excited quacking greeted me tonight as I rounded the corner of the house to do chores. Even the ducks hunkered down in their small shelter, avoiding the frigid northwest gales. The wind was still howling.
Dust and small debris filled the air and drove into my face. Something whirled in my peripheral, and I looked up to see three long, thin corn leaves twisting and twirling, almost in formation. As I wondered if there would be anything left in the neighbor’s field, the tan trio whirled out of sight, high above the huge cottonwood.
Chores done, I wrestled the door shut, glad to be inside. The wind roared through the windows, and I remembered a different corn field from long ago and far away.
The ’63 blue Ford pickup bounced over the rows as we headed to the south end of the field. I stared out the window, searching for snatches of yellow on the ground. I thought I saw something move up ahead, and I imagined the wild animals lurking on the South Dakota prairie.
Delmer drew my attention as he maneuvered the vehicle between rows.
“Dad said to pick up all the ears we can. A lot fell off before he ran the picker through it. We can’t let it go to waste.”
At last he stopped and turned off the engine. We each grabbed a five-gallon pail out of the back and trudged through the rows of standing bare stalks. The full ears, often still covered in husks, lay in the dirt, thicker on the hilltops. We worked in silence, emptying full buckets in the back of the pickup, then heading back for more.
“How come so much corn fell off?” (I never could be quiet for long.)
“Dad said the wind did it. Remember that night a couple weeks ago when it blew like crazy?”
Did I remember? The wind screamed outside the bedroom window. I imagined wild creatures trying to get in. Lions. Tigers. Bears.
My brother and I worked through the afternoon. When we covered a wide area all around the pickup, he drove it forward, and we continued our search in the new area. When the back was full, we drove home and unloaded it in the corncrib aisle. Through the winter we would run small batches through the hand-crank corn sheller. The chickens would thank us.
Starting on our second load, we neared the end of the field. I noticed an area of black in the grass that grew in the fencerow. "What’s that?” My curiosity and sense of adventure beckoned. I cautiously stepped closer to the massive pile of loose dirt. On the south side of the mound there was a huge round hole. My eight-year-old imagination conjured up creatures that might live in such a lair. Fearless Delmer walked right up to it. I stood behind him and peeked around.
“It’s a badger hole,” my brother replied. I wondered how he could be so sure, but he went on. “Badgers can be real mean. You don’t ever want to get one in a corner.”
I frantically scanned the area for places a badger would consider corners. The barbed wire behind his den looked cornery-enough for me. Just as I was about to hightail it back to the Ford, Delmer yanked a big old cornstalk out of the ground and shoved it down into that badger hole! Seeing sharp white teeth and long, dreadful claws about to come charging out at us, I grabbed my bucket and ran.
My brother’s wild laughter assured me that an angry, cornered critter had not eaten him. Powered by a surge of adrenaline I found a dozen more husk-covered ears. My imagination kept working, too, and my heart pounded as I emptied the pail and then fearfully glanced back to the mound of dirt.
All at once something whizzed by, dangerously close to my head. I screamed as it slammed into the bumper. An ear of corn bounced to the ground. I glared at my brother.
He hooted his distinctive Delmer-laugh and called back, “The wind did it.”
I scooted to the other side of the pickup, just in case any more identified flying objects came hurtling through the air.
I picked up an ear of corn and wondered just how mean badgers really were. I pictured a huge, seething creature staring at the corn stalk that had just invaded his home.
Warily, I peeked over the back end of the pickup. I did not want to get clobbered with a flying ear of corn. The Boy Who Taunts Wild Animals caught me looking and grinned. He carried an ear of corn in his right hand. As he walked along, he tossed it up and caught it, like he was contemplating the next throw.
My gaze flew to the black mound in the fencerow, then back at my brother. For a second, just one second, I hoped that badger felt cornered.
Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates
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