November 13, 2016
In the words of the old hymn:
“Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in
E’er the winter storms begin.”
Used to be, we were disappointed, but not surprised, when the men of the family would get up after Thanksgiving dinner and head out the door from Grandma and Grandpa Hurst’s house to pick a few acres before evening. A couple of years, due to drought, or government programs, or both, we actually finished harvest by Halloween. That was bad. But more recently in terms of Hurst Farms lore, we fervently hope to bring in the last wagon load of corn…or, in wet years, soybeans, by mid November…because that is Charlie’s birthday, giving us twice the license to celebrate.
It wasn’t always that way. When Charlie was a boy, the crops were planted much later so the last pass with the plow would catch the late germinating weeds. Without grain dryers or bin fans, the crop had to do all its drying in the field, so harvest lasted well into December. I reckon he got a cake (Grandma was a great cook!), but otherwise November 15 was just another day of work on the farm.
Before we were out of college and back on the farm, Blake and I stayed with his folks on weekends. As a rookie at the farm wife business, I wanted to make a good impression on my in-laws and did the only thing I knew how to do: I got up as early as I heard Millie stirring in the kitchen. The kitchen was warm, busy, and smelled of coffee. The table was the nerve center of the family and farm, a place where plans were made, stories were told, and sports were analyzed and deconstructed, years before that word was a part of the vocabulary.
Time passes, but the kitchen table still serves the same function for the much larger family that drops in for coffee, Sudoku, and conversation. Sports, from elementary volleyball, through East Atchison junior high and high school, to the collegiate black and gold of Missouri, and culminating at the pinnacle of fan and family allegiance, the St. Louis Cardinals, is subjected to a gimlet eye and partisan’s critique of the referee’s and/or coach’s judgments. If one has attended as many sporting events as Charlie and Millie have, on hard bleachers, in cold mist or pouring rain, rooting for winners…and losers…one has earned the right to an opinion!
And then there are all the 4H and FFA projects. How many steers and hogs, meek and mild or crazy and wild, underfed or overfed, winning or losing, has Grandpa Charlie put up his hand and bid on. How many times has the auctioneer sidled over to the fence and crooked his finger for one more bid while a granddaughter with a pie or cake stood in the ring? So many county fairs…more seats in the bleachers…and more appreciation due than any thank you note can express.
In 1978, Charlie helped two rookie carpenters make a bare bones little tenant house with a toilet in one room, a shower stall in another, and no furnace at all, into our first home. In 1986, he helped frame up, roof, sheetrock, and finish the addition doubling the size of our farmhouse so kid number three would have a place to lay his head. Without his do-it-yourself ethos, I don’t know that we would ever have attempted to build that addition, or even one greenhouse, much less the much larger projects that followed.
16 By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Just so, every good tree bears good fruit. (Matthew 7: 16-17)
I’ve got a whole album of photos to prove this verse true. There’s a black and white with Millie and Charlie, Grandma and Grandpa Hurst. There’s a wedding photo, circa 1977, of Blake, his folks and his brothers at Trinity Lutheran in Jefferson City. Sorry about the tuxes, guys: it WAS the ’70s. Here’s Millie and Charlie one Christmas in their old house, sporting personalized red and white Tarkio Indian polo shirts, all the better to endure the nights of basketball games in an overheated gym. Wedding receptions too numerous to count. Cardinal baseball in Redbird gear of various vintages, including the classic set with “Together 19”on one shirt and “Since 56” on the other. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs from the guy in Chicago who couldn’t recall a Cardinals’ player named “SINCE”. Here’s Charlie hobnobbing with the Canadian Consul, at the podium in the White House West Wing press room, querying pundit Michael Barone at a Farm Bureau Foundation banquet, laughing with the Vice President at the White House Christmas Party, thumbs up at Brooks’ college graduation, with Alissa at her high school graduation, signing the papers at Ben’s commissioning into the Army and dancing with Lee at her wedding. Finally, a hilarious, chaotic sequence shot at the 60th Anniversary party this past June with at least one kid crying, one dancing, and who knows how many heads turned and eyes closed. By “these fruits” you will know the “good tree” at the base of our family tree: by good example, frugality, hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, honesty, and dedication. We can’t fix the Missouri Tigers. We can’t fire Joe Buck. We can’t advise Mike Matheny. But we can sure wish you a Happy Birthday!