Food Memory, Fond Memory
I grew up in a large family. My grandparents homesteaded a property in South Dakota. As a child, I spent summer's there with several of my siblings. An innocent time in my memory. Shoes came off. Cotton shorts, home made printed mid-drift tops, hair either slicked into a ponytail or cut into pixie fashion lent a carefree air to our play. There wasn't air conditioning. The dank smelling earthen cellar lined with glass canning jars and stacks of fresh eggs, was the cherished work spot. We bathed on Saturday in preparation for Sunday using the same bath water several times. We washed our hair in the yard with metallic scented water dipped from rain barrels. And, naturally there was an outhouse with sticky flypaper curls the color of golden honey hanging from the ceiling and a strong lime odor wafting upward.
We played in a run down apple orchard where the implement graveyard rested in peace and we sat on rusted seats pretending to drive the Belgian work horses once present on the farm. The mulberry tree painted the bottoms of our feet and allowed us to stick a tart purple tongue out for proud display. Barn cats with their young curled around our naked toes then ran off in a teasing game of hide and seek. Cows grazed in the pasture. Stickle burrs were often pulled from our callused feet. Corn grew tall and concealed some strange creature my Czech grandmother called a nemolinkee. The fearful creature convinced even the most brave among us that a corn patch was no place to venture.
The wash house was the farm sauna where the pungent smell of round balls of laundry soap used to wash stains from collars announced cleanliness. If a breeze was present then the noon air announced the meal. Lots of chicken. Roasted or stewed, dumplings, sauerkraut, garden vegetables, cold fresh milk and man sized farm cookies made with skimmed cream then frosted with an egg and sugar glaze.
A quarter mile walk to the mailbox marked the mid-day event. We picked rocks from the gravel road as we meandered and pitched them into the field similar to how I might skip a stone on water. Some lucky child got to bounce along in a an old wooden wheelbarrow that either grandpa or an older sibling pushed. The front wheel was iron clad. No inflated pneumatic rubber tire to pad the bumps. Layers of flaking green paint revealed the numerous summers a grandchild had had the privilege of painting the favored toy.
Getting water for the chickens involved a large barrel and a tractor ride. The barrel was filled from a water pipe connected to the windmill. For a little person, the welded steel arms rising into the heavens was nothing less than a mammoth skeleton. An eerie creak and squeaking sound floated downward creating a cocooning vortex. Beneath the metal frame, the earth vibrated as the wind spun the fins and brought forth the coldest water imaginable.
As a child I was on that farm for chicken butchering, egg picking, cow milking, pig feeding, and hay baling. Undoubtedly, there was hard work involved for the adults on the farm. However, for me, one day melted into another, ending with the fireflies I could see from the second story bedroom window of the old farmhouse. We often took a pillow and lay beside the floor to ceiling open windows trying to snatch the tiniest bit of breeze to cool our warm skin before falling into a peaceful slumber.
So I have a long answer to a childhood memory of food. From these precious visits, we'd return with abundance. In our station wagon filled with children and one lucky barn kitten, my parents loaded dozens of eggs and galvanized wash tubs filled with the best locally produced German wieners, sausage, bacon, and chicken. Nicely packed in ice and covered in heavy rag rugs made by my grandmother, we transported the farm fresh food home to our freezer. For us, this was what was meant by eating local.