#SOL21: The Good Old Days

It’s summertime in the Midwest. The corn is anywhere between waist high and shoulder high so it exceeds the “knee high by the 4th of July expectations.” 60% of the corn crop is normal. Normal. In an Iowa where 80+ of the counties are still in a drought. After more than 10 inches of rain in 48 hours, still in a drought. Hard to imagine.

Beans are 50% normal. At the closing bell Monday, new crop beans were 34 to 42 3/4 cents in the black at $12.62 a bushel. July 21 soybeans closed at $13.57, up 27 1/4 cents.

After last year’s derecho, no Iowa farmer is holding their breath.

Farming roots run deep.

I watch the weather daily.

I study the crops from the roads.

Sometimes I stop and check.

Soybean fields that had cockleburs like this or volunteer corn would earn me $40

back in the day,

The Good Old Days!

Variations exist:

Cleaning the beans . . . one way link

Walking the Beans . . . a resurgence for organic farmers link

The Goal: A field that looks like this.

Zero Weeds.

Walking the Beans

For a couple weeks of work.

Sun up to sun down.

Delayed only by lightning.

Walking the beans

Usually 40 acres.

The field that had corn the year before.

Walking the beans


Buttonweeds – easy to pull

Cockleburs – prickly with deep roots

Corn – volunteer corn that was usually connected to part of a corn cob

Common weeds that would reduce the value of the bean crop.

Walking the beans

Sometimes with siblings; sometimes not.

There was one particular summer that still stands out.

I was seven or eight. Not old enough to walk the beans, but Mom and Dad and my youngest brother were gone somewhere so I followed my two elder siblings out to the bean field. It was too boring to stay in the house where I had been relegated by my youth. It was a hot summer day, with a light breeze that caused the beans to wave back and forth in a stately synchronized waltz. A pleasant summer day.

I had two rows in between my sister’s four and my brother’s four. Ten rows down. Ten rows back. Twenty rows clean in one round trip. A quick water break and then back to it. I had gloves, ill-fitting, but gloves nevertheless. I was too little to have a hoe so I pulled weeds by hand.

And then there was a hill of corn. I tugged. Some broke off. It felt like an entire bushel. I pulled some more. A few more leaves split as I yanked with all my might.

I yelled for help from one of my siblings.

My brother arrived. Raised the hoe. Brought it down


I was on the ground screaming as bright red blood mixed with the black dirt and the green split leaves of corn.

I screamed again.

The sight of all that blood leaking from just below my knee was worse than the pain at that very moment.

Blood everywhere.

And my knee buckled as I fell to the ground.

Literally felled by a hoe.

It was a long trip back to the house. With an even longer wait for our parents to come home. (Cell phones were NOT in existence decades and decades ago.)


I was the one in trouble.

I was not supposed to be in the bean field.

I look at that scar and shake my head now. Superglue might be the treatment du jour.

For me, it was the first time I got stitches.

And then the second time,

And then just left to heal on its own

As they ripped out when I knelt at church,

Or when I walked around.


of course,

no pay.

I wasn’t supposed to be there after all.

Troublemaker ME!

Have you ever been in trouble when trying to do the right thing? How did the problem resolve itself? And how long does it sometimes take to get to the “really good part of the story”?


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this weekly forum.

Check out the writers and readers here.

And thank you #TCRWP Writing Institute for the time to begin this narrative draft.

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10 responses

  1. Your piece today is “window” reading for me. You make me realize how much I DO NOT know about farming and now, with all my questions, I WANT to read more and know more. That’s a sign of great writing. Thanks for the glimpse into another way of life. Thanks for the nudge to learn more!

    1. Sally,
      In the last election cycle, a sitting Senator was asked about the price of either corn or beans. I forget which. At any rate, she had no answer but claimed to be “the farmers’ candidate.” It does vary as there could easily be four or five answers. But no answer was not acceptable.

      Farming now is so much more complicated than in the Good Old Days . . . so family farms are on the decline!

  2. When we first moved to this house there was a farmer’s field behind our property. He alternated between corn and soybeans. Not being a country boy I know nothing about farming so it was interesting watching the crops grow and the harvesting taking place. It’s amazing how when something happens to us we get the blame because we were not supposed to be there in the first place. I think many kids experience this kind of logic.

    1. Farming is interesting. Many changes in the last 50 years.

  3. Watching the weather and watching the crops is in my blood, too. I babysat the irrigation for my youth group leaders one summer for a week. That’s as close as I got to the fields. In our parts, sugar beets were grown back in the day and weeded by migrant workers. Hard, hot work.

    1. Sugar beets would be labor intensive and hard and hot as well.

  4. Fran, while I do not have any background in farming, albeit fascinatingly presented by you, I was immersed in your slice. The details added to what’s next that opened into an amazing story. Thank you for the opportunity to read through your craftwork and fill my mind with interesting facts about farming in the mid-west.

    1. Carol,
      Stewardship of the land leads to interesting farming conversations.

  5. You took me back in time and I felt all the pain and injustice of your hoe injury.

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