Jung’s, Gurney’s, and Burpee seed catalogs arrived in the mail, usually the first week in January, about the same time as the tax bill. The bright vibrant colors of the pictures of vegetables and fruits contrasted sharply with the barren fields and snow-covered hills surrounding the Scheckel farm out on Oak Grove Ridge in the 1940s and 1950s.
I enjoyed looking through the Gurney’s Seed Catalog. They had a little biography of Charles W. Gurney in one of their issues. Charles W. Gurney was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Civil War. Gurney was born in Massachusetts in 1840, moved to Iowa in 1852, and enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Infantry. They had a profile picture of Lt. Col Gurney and he looked very distinguished with a bushy goatee mustache. He looked like an honest seed seller to me.
Then we had Ground Hogs Day on February 2, which just happens to be my oldest brother Ed’s birthday. The folklore is that if the groundhog sees his shadow when he pokes his head out of his burrow, there would be six more weeks of winter. Or was it the other way around; a very short winter and early spring?
I could not keep that straight. Besides, we did not have groundhogs on Oak Grove Ridge. I found out later that the groundhog is the same as a woodchuck and we had plenty of those. I figured that the smart woodchucks, or groundhogs, did not come out of their holes on February 2. They stayed in the warm sweet slumber of hibernation until at least April. It was the stupid or mentally retarded groundhogs that would make an appearance in the dead of winter.
In the summer we had picked wild blackberries in bushes we found down in Kettle Hollow and a secret patch on the Bernier farm. Mom canned those berries and it paid off big time in the dead of winter. We could bring up a jar of raspberries or strawberries from the basement and Mom would bake a “short cake” and the berries, along with the sugary syrup, was spread over the top.
Snowballs flew in the late 1940s and 1950s at the Oak Grove Ridge one-room country school outside of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County. The best snowball fights
happened when 2 impromptu teams built snow forts about 30 feet apart by rolling big balls of snow, much like starting to make a snowman and positioning them into a line, packing snow between the orbs, leveling the top, and building a wall up to about 3 feet tall and 15 feet long.
Hunkered down behind the protective wall, each combatant packed together a dozen or so snowballs for ammunition. Then the snowball fight commenced and what great fun it was! Raise up, throw hard at the opponent and duck down before getting hit.
My brother Bob came up with an ingenious way of fighting. Poke a small hole in the wall, enough to peer through but not so big that a snowball can penetrate. With snowball in hand, crouched down but ready to throw, sight through the hole, and watch until the enemy is sighted just raising up, then let go.
Many was the time the foe would be hit by a snowball without ever seeing it coming. These battles would rage back and forth sometimes lasting the whole noon hour. At times the war was cut short by some crybaby kid that got hit in the face with a snowball and went bawling into the schoolhouse to tell Teacher. Teacher would come out and put a stop to our good fun.
We kids all looked forward to playground time at Oak Grove School. We learned to share, we learned to compete, and we learned give and take. We learned lessons in empathy, friendship, and fair play. We took away many good memories from that half acre of playground on the hilltop out on Oak Grove Ridge.
The Scheckel family was back in the warm farmhouse by 6 PM on winter nights out on the Oak Grove Ridge farm in the 1940s and 1950s. All the livestock were fed, watered, and bedded down for the night. The cows were milked. The Lone Ranger came on the radio on about 6:30 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The wind howled with great fury at times, gusts seems to rock or sway the house, and make noises as the timbers creaked. We were not alarmed. That old farmhouse was built sturdy and had weathered many storms and high winds. Furthermore, it was protected on nearly all sides by trees.
We made popcorn some night. Put some grease in the frying pan, put in popcorn and topped it with a lid. As soon as the first kernels popped, one of us would have to slide the frying pan back and forth across the burner to prevent the kernels from burning.
We grew our own popcorn in the garden. Why buy if you can grow your own? The popcorn ears were smaller than field corn. Some of our home-grown popcorn had white kernels and some had yellow kernels. The white kernels yielded whitish popcorn and was slightly smaller than the yellow kernels.
We made sure the ear corn was very dry. If the ears were not completely dry, the popcorn kernels would mold. We picked the ears in late fall, shelled the popcorn ears, and stored the kernels in a jar for use during the winter.
When popped, the corn filled a large bowl, some butter was put in the frying pan to melt. The melted butter was poured over the popcorn. Small dishes were filled for each of us to eat. We played cards, 500, Euchre, or Pepper. Some of us would read or play Monopoly. Dad would listen to the radio, or work a crossword puzzle, or read a newspaper. Mom would mend clothes or crochet doilies.