Putting on the Big Boots

Walk boldly and carry a big corn knife

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Rough dark leaves grazed my face and arms and made me itch. Toes sank into the black South Dakota dirt as I trudged between rows of tall fibrous stalks. At the top of each stalk, light brown growth protruded like a miniature tree with thin, arm-like branches. Tiny yellow grains clung to each rough branch and fell as we brushed by. A distinctive odor hung in the thick air, growing more intense as we moved. Not a breath of breeze penetrated the thick, hot jungle around us.

The jungle was the cornfield just north of the shelter belt. The corn was in tassel. The yellow grains were pollen, which emitted the characteristic sweet-and-sour odor.

Dad had sent Mom, Delmer and me to eliminate the sunflowers that had evaded the cultivator. Mom commandeered the middle. Delmer covered the two rows to her left. They wielded corn knives. (I was not allowed a corn knife, possibly because of the hoe incident.) Every ten yards or so, I heard one of them chop once, maybe twice, as another formidable foe bit the dust. I pulled the smaller plants in my row and called to Mom to bring down the more sizeable scoundrels.

Dorothy was not very old when Dad handed her a corn knife. “Go up and down the corn rows and chop down all the sunflowers.” She knew what sunflowers were, so she headed for the field. She chopped away for what seemed like the whole day. A few days later when Donald cultivated, he came home, chuckling about the sunflowers that weren’t chopped below the bottom leaves and would just grow back. Dad did not say a word, but in my mind I can see him shake his head and grin just a little, realizing that his little girl had simply followed his instructions.

Sunflowers were not welcome anywhere on our South Dakota farm. I once asked Dad why sunflowers were bad. He replied that they were hard on the combine, and they showed up everywhere! So we hoed them out of end rows, pulled them when they dared to show their ugly heads under the windmill and chopped them out of fields and pastures. At an early age, we learned to hate those tall weeds with the yellow flowers that sought the sun.

Memories stick with us, good or bad, whether we want them or not. Today, when I see a florist bouquet bedecked with five colors of sunflowers, I wrinkle my nose in quiet disdain.

The last issue of my favorite garden catalog devoted one full glossy photo page to sunflowers—thirteen various varieties! I glanced over them (obviously counted) and read a few of the blurbs. Butterflies love them. They come in every size and color imaginable. They are lovely in containers.

Hmph! I flipped the page. I cannot, I will not purchase any plant that is even slightly related to that dreaded plague of my youth!

Okay, maybe next year…

Want to read more of Kruempel’s writing? Her newest book, 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 of memories) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which preceded PUTTING ON THE BIG BOOTS. Contact DeAnn at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com

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