“Come on in and sit up to the table. There’s always enough for one more!” The screen door creaked open as Dad ushered in a guest at 11:50 a.m. Mom was accustomed to setting an extra plate on the kitchen table for an uninvited visitor. Vacuum cleaner salesmen, guys who sold every kind of brush imaginable and the occasional lost soul searching for “the home place” turned into our drive, often at meal time. Though it happened too often to be a coincidence, our parents welcomed them into our home. Sometimes Mom would pull us aside and whisper, “Don’t take very much gravy,” or “We will split a pork chop.” Somehow, there was enough.
More than five decades ago, on our farm in eastern South Dakota, the meals were breakfast, dinner and supper. Lunch was the snack in mid-afternoon (and maybe mid-morning) to “tide us over” until supper. Early to rise and strenuous physical labor required energy, and our mother and her four daughters rose to the task; hearty meals graced the table daily.
When the men worked in the fields, planting, cultivating, or harvesting, at four o’clock one of us kids carried a bucket to the fence row and waited for them to drive back to the end. Then we would sit companionably in the grass and munch on the sandwiches and cookies Mom had prepared. Dad enjoyed a thermos of coffee with homemade, gingery molasses cookies. If the lunch bearer was lucky, she was rewarded with a ride on the tractor for a round or two.
When Dad hired builders or painters or any extra help, those men always shared meals with our family for the duration of their jobs. “You have to treat your help right” was our father’s philosophy, and Mom accommodated with bountiful fare on the table.
Every year in mid-September, Claus the corn sheller would lug his huge rig to our place and maneuver it next to the corn crib. Neighboring farmers brought trucks and trailers to haul the shelled grain to town or to our empty bins. It was a corn-shelling bee! Dad, my brothers and the neighbors loosened the ears from the bin and pulled them with rakes to the long conveyer. The corn traveled to a short elevator and into the sheller. Golden kernels poured out of an auger into the waiting trucks. Bare red cobs tumbled to a pile near the crib. Husks and cob chaff spewed out of a different tube, everything to be used later.
At noon Dad led the men to the kitchen and an overflowing table. One young farmer stopped in to apologize to Mom. “I promised my wife I’d come home for dinner.” The others ribbed him about being newly-married and pressed him to stay and eat. “There’s pie,” they said just as he spotted the three tins on the counter. He leaned closer and caught a whiff of cinnamon and apple. “I guess I could call her and tell her I won’t be coming,” he said, and Dad pointed to the phone. In the crowded kitchen, it was impossible for us to avoid hearing his brief conversation. He explained to his bride that he would not be home for dinner, then waited for a few moments as she replied. At last, releasing a frustrated sigh he blurted out, “Maybe you could learn to make pie!” A short stretch of dial tone followed.
The guests sat at the table and began passing the heavily-laden bowls and platters. They filled their plates with sliced roast beef, potatoes and gravy, green beans and creamy coleslaw. Homemade dinner rolls, quickly slathered with butter and chokecherry jelly, teetered on the edge. Seasoned eaters found room for dill and beet pickles.
Mom and her girls listened to the clatter of silverware, bowls and glasses as the crew focused on the food. They jumped to fill serving dishes and coffee cups when the need arose. At last, our mother dished up the grand finale, wedges of crust-covered apples swimming in spicy-sweet filling. Claus and the young farmer reveled in two slices, the latter murmuring that he needed to stock up.
The culinary offerings abounded in our farmhouse kitchen, especially when we had company. The experiences taught us kids about warmth and hospitality, how to treat visitors in our homes. We learned that you need to be good to your help, and truly, there is always enough for one more.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, IA, Akron, IA and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children’s Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, (four published so far, fifth to come out soon) “Promises to Keep,” which are available at Amazon.com.