via An Early Frost
We awoke yesterday, Saturday morning, September 29, to witness the first hard frost of the Fall season. Our temperature gauge read 30 degrees. There was frost on the grass and frost on the house and garage roofs. We three Scheckel boys growing up on the Crawford County farm outside of Seneca in the late 1940s and 1950s looked forward to Fall. It was the opening of the squirrel hunting season.
Fall is the most enjoyable of seasons, full of sights, sounds, and smells that delight the senses. The skies are pleasant as the humidity of summer is largely behind us, and the white cumulus clouds stand out against the azure blue sky. The sumac has turned bright red.
Rabbits, in abundance this year, hasten to their hiding places. Squirrels gather nuts, storing them for the long winter ahead. Butterflies are abundant. We see sandhill cranes feeding in the harvested oats and hay fields. Wooly bear caterpillars are spotted. I stopped to examine a couple of them. They will tell us about the winter ahead. Narrow brown band means a bitter winter ahead. Wide brown band will indicate a mild winter. You can count on it. What’s the verdict for this year? I find a wide band, it’s going to be a balmy winter. No need to travel south this year!
A few V shaped flocks of geese are overhead. Maybe some have headed south already. It’s good to get to Missouri and Arkansas before all the good feeding places are taken up, they’re telling each other!
And the smells. Fall has a scent all its own. The cornfields emit a certain scent, as do the dried leaves. The winds carry an aroma of a large dairy farm. It’s not exactly a perfume or fragrance, but it does evoke memories of decades past on the Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca.
The days are getting shorter. It was dark at a little past 7 PM last night. The big maple across from our house is turning color. The leaves on the left have turned to yellows and oranges. The right-hand side remains green. It different each year.
Next week is a busy one. We’re heading down to Sugar Creek Bible camp north of Ferryville on Monday, October 1, for a presentation to a group called “Yesterday’s Youth”. The title is Farm Life and the One-Room Country School in the 1940s and 1950s. Tuesday we give a 2-hour science presentation to virtual school students. Catch you down the road.
Genesis 2:1 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, all in their vast array.
Fall is coming on. You can feel it in the cooler nights, despite having some mid-80 degree temps for the past few days. You sense in the shorter days with dark coming on by 7 or 7:30 PM and it’s 6:30 AM before the sky lights up in the east. We see squirrels gathering acorns and it seems we have more squirrels this year compared to past years. When we pulled in the driveway after 4 PM Mass on Saturday, four squirrels, two of them black, were feverishly gathering acorns under the big oak tree in the front yard. Walnuts are falling from the trees along my jogging path in the marsh area. Sumac in the hinterlands are turning red. Some soybean fields are losing their dark green color and the yellows are moving in. The corn silk on the ends of the ears have turned from whitish-yellow to a dark brown. We see several flocks of geese overhead in their familiar V shape pattern. Spotted some butterflies and a wooly bear caterpillar.
All these signs of Fall makes me harken back to my days on the farm in the late 1040s and 1950s on Oak Grove Ridge in Crawford County outside of Seneca. Phillip, a year older than me, and Bob, a year younger than me would be looking forward to squirrel hunting. Dad had his own timetable. Something about the squirrel meat not being any good until we’ve had a good hard frost.
We only had one rifle for the three of us, a single-shot Stevens, I believe, so we had to take turns hunting. Sometimes two of us would go together. Dad taught us how to skin a squirrel. Squirrel meat was very good, very tender, a true delicacy.
In early October Dad would take us coon hunting down in the depths of Kettle Hollow. My dog Browser would go along. Raccoons came around the farm buildings at night. They were after anything we had, that tasted good to a raccoon, like young chickens, lambs, and piglets. These farm critters were all good meals for the “masked bandits”, as we called them. More about coon hunting in the next blog.
We carried our lunch to the Oak Grove one-room country school in the late 1940s and all thru the 1950s. Usually had a lunch pail or lunch box. My favorite was the metal box about 6 inches by 9 inches and 4 inches deep with a little handle on top for carrying.
The entire lunch box had that Roy Rogers motif, with Roy, Trigger, Dale Evans, Bullet the dog, Roy’s sidekick Pat Brady, and Nellybelle, his jeep. A half dozen or so colored pictures showing Roy riding his horse, rounding up cattle, Dale Evans and logo of the Double R Bar Ranch. My favorite picture was Bullet licking Pat Brady’s face.
I admired Pat Brady the most. I got a Pat Brady coloring book for Christmas when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I later learned that Pat Brady served with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in Europe in World War II. He was decorated for bravery and earned the bronze star and two Purple Hearts. He rescued some of his army buddies when the top of their army tank was blown off in near Metz, France in November 1944.
I used that lunch pail for third and fourth grade until the two hinges tore lose. Some kids brought their lunch in syrup cans. Later I got a black lunch box with a dome top and a thermos bottle fit into the dome top, held by a wire latch. The inside of the lunch box was painted white. They were durable, sturdy, and the vacuum bottle held about two cups, and the lid, usually red, acted as a drinking cup.
Mom would make the school lunches. Homemade bread with jelly and peanut butter wrapped in wax paper, orange, banana, and a brownie. We took soup in a glass jar with a tight- fitting lid. Fifteen minutes before lunch, some of the older boys or girls, would prepare a big pan or two, put in several inches of water and set it atop the wood burning stove and later, the oil burner stove, Each kid would get out their jar of soup heat it up by putting it in the pan of water.
That was our hot lunch program in the winter time when the stove and furnace was needed, then we ate inside. Spring and fall, we’d take our lunch boxes outside and sit on the concrete steps, or cistern skirting, or along the sunny south side of the school. Sometimes we traded lunch items.
Late August in Crawford County was an exciting time for the Scheckel kids growing up on the farm outside of Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. School started around August 23, depending on when Monday fell. The grass and weeds on the schoolyard had grown two to three feet tall. Floyd Sutton mowed the half-acre patch with his hay mower attached to his Minneapolis Moline tractor.
Everyone walked to the one-room Oak Grove School, except the Rosenbaum’s, who were three miles out on the end of the Ridge. It wasn’t the end of the world, but you could see it from there, a saying coined by Nebraskan Roger Welch.
The Fradette, Mahan, Sutton, Ingham, and Lucey kids came from the North. The Scheckel and Kozelka kids came from the South. The two Pease girls came up out of Kettle Hollow. A hello from the teacher, greetings among classmates, the bat and ball were retrieved from the corner of the coat annex, Bases, actually boards or dried cow pies, were laid out approximately where they were after the school picnic in late May.
The wood shed was the backstop. The softball diamond tilted, you ran downhill to first base, and uphill from second to third. With no time to choose sides for teams, a game of 500 or work-up ensued.
Teacher ran the school bell at 9 o’clock. Kids dutifully filed in. Teacher said a few friendly words of greetings. The entire class of eighth-graders held up the American flag in the front of the room. Everyone stood for the Pledge, then the two eighth graders took the flag out the white, hinged, and squeaky door, They ran it up the 12 foot steel pole. It’s 1949 and learning could now begin.
All is well in Tomah country as we are in the “dog days of summer”, very warm days with cool nights. We had about an inch and a half of much-needed rain the past two days. The corn and soybeans crops are looking fantastic. Should be a bumper cranberry harvest.
With Roundup Ready seeds, the fields are virtually weed-free, a far cry from the 1940s and 1950s corn fields on our home farm near Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. We’d have to cultivate corn at least three times to keep the weeds down.
Ann and I retired from teaching eight years ago. Thus far we have enjoyed good health and health is everything. Yes, we are mindful that situations can change in an instant. Life is “pretty good” right now and those years slip by very quickly. We have been quite lucky to travel, bicycle, fly our club Cessna, jog (slowly), play guitar (badly), fly RC planes, visit children and grandchildren, be involved in church activities, write a few books, and some columns for newspapers and magazine.
We got our latest book Murder in Wisconsin: The Clara Olson Case out the past few weeks. The first edition is not perfect. Has a few punctuation errors and other minor issues, but the next printing should be close to “good enough”. We also have a new science book, I Wondered About That Too, coming out in November. Published by TumbleHome Learning out of Boston. Another science book in 2019.
My big project for the week was putting a new cupola on our newly-shingled garage. Had to order it off the Internet, as Menard’s, Home Depot, and All American Do It Center did not carry them. It was a tough choice between a tractor, horse, cow, or rooster for the weather vane. I went with the rooster. Our Big Barn on the farm had a horse and the Small Barn had a cow on the weather vane. When I left the farm in the fall of 1960 to go into the Army, both horse and cow suffered from numerous holes and missing parts, shots from a .22 rifle. I think my brothers did it.