Three Tines

When we were at Mom and Dad’s in Iowa over the holidays, I was struck by the use of tines – three different sets in the course of 24 hours.

While Bill and I were out one day visiting friends, Mom spread peanut butter over buttery crackers, sandwiched them together, then dipped them into almond bark that she had melted in a double-boiler.  It looked like white chocolate.  She laid them out on two big pans so the sweet chocolaty coating would harden. 

Later that afternoon when I got back, I rallied my nieces into helping with the final dipping of the day: round pretzels into brown chocolate almond bark.  The pretzels were wide enough for a fork to go through the holes in the middle, so after a dunking the tines would haul them out of the melting pot.  With a few tap, tap, taps on the side of the double-boiler, the excess chocolate would drop off and then the circle was dropped on to parchment that covered the big pans.  It was a loud endeavor.  The sound of the tapping reminded me, unfortunately, of the tapping of the toilet brush on the side of the bowl after I cleaned it.  My nieces loaded up the forks with three or four pretzels to make the dipping go a bit quicker, resulting in fewer taps. 

The next morning, I went out to help Dad feed the cattle.  Twenty-some calves from last spring are on the feedlot at Mom and Dad’s.  They were brought here from my brother’s place, a mile away, to be weaned.  I was home when they were first brought over in November, and I saw their first feeding.  Dad scattered hay along the 25-foot-ish feed bunk to draw them in.  At first they looked like petulant two-year-olds refusing to eat in this confusing environment sans their mothers’ milk.  Slowly, they stuck their heads down and latched onto some hay.  Dad sprinkled a little corn in to entice them. 

On this most recent visit in December, their timidity had completely vanished, and I smiled at the noise a bunch of calves could make eating shelled corn and protein pellets!  I remember a lot of the sights and smells from growing up on the farm, but those big calves crunching away seemed new to me and made me smile.

I filled several five-gallon pails with shelled corn, and Dad spread them along the bunk, followed by a five-gallon pail of protein pellets.  The dust that the corn kicked up as it poured out of the bin was familiar and intense.  It introduced a memory of “all things corn” growing up: harvesting it in the fall, grinding it in the winter, shelling it another time, and finally scooping up ground corn and dumping it in mounds in the manger to feed the cattle when we milked dairy cows.  Twice a day, every day.  Fifteen years for me; many more for Mom and Dad.

After we fed the cattle, Dad checked the shed where the cattle went to get out of the wind and the cold.  It needed to be bedded again, for the straw spread out a few days ago had been tamped down into the manure.  The barn and shed shared a wall.  I crawled to the top of the stack of small bales in the corner of the barn and gently dropped the bales down to Dad.  The stack went up to about two feet from the roof of the barn, probably five or six bales high – about fifteen feet.  The dusty smell and grasp of twine holding the bales together felt recent.  Much more recent than the span of years it had been since I tossed my first straw bale.

Dad tossed the six bales through the wide opening that was a half-wall high between the barn and the shed.  We hopped over the wall and grabbed pitch forks.  I'll leave it to you to envision what "hopping over a wall looks like" when a 75-year-old and 52-year-old complete this feat. As we pulled the twine strings off the bales, they fell apart in six-inch sections.  To spread the straw evenly, I stuck my fork into one section at a time and shook it vigorously around me.  The movement was an old one; it put my shoulder muscles into an action that felt new.  I loved this part of growing up.  Taking a section at a time and spreading it out.  While I’m sure my company was pleasant for Dad, I’m not sure my contribution in the shed had much of an impact.  He had four bales spread when I was midway through my second.

A couple early mornings I went with Dad to feed the cattle at my brother’s place.  My brother had foot surgery a few weeks ago, so getting up and down, in and out of the skid loader was on hold for him until his foot healed.  I took up my spot as gate girl, one that I’m very familiar with, and watched the lights on the skid loader disappear in the pre-dawn light over the rise along the fence line as Dad went to get a bucket full of silage.  When I saw the headlights, I opened the gate wide and stood in the opening until Dad was close.  A couple months ago, the cows had gotten out and now there were a couple wild old girls who hovered at the gate entrance whenever it was opened.  Dad took four loads of silage into the field and dumped them into old inverted tractor tires that served as feed bunks.  Four loads is key in defining the importance of a gate-girl or boy: If Dad did this himself, it would’ve meant getting on and off the skid loader sixteen times to open and close the gate.  Gate-girl is not a glamorous job but very helpful – more than that of straw-girl.

One morning, my brother jumped onto the second skid loader to take a big round bale of stalks in to bed the area where the cows were fed.  He would catch heck from Dad for doing it, but he did it never-the-less.  These bales were taller than me and held together with nylon string netting. My brother drove the skid loader up to the tine attachment suited for moving bales, loaded a bale, and headed out to spread it.  Dad helped him get the string off the bale, which took a bit of doing – moving the bale this way and that to get to all the string off.  Then, with the same expertise as Dad’s spreading of straw with a pitch fork, my brother toggled the lever in the skid loader to spread the cornstalks out.  He drove slowly as he bounced the bucket, covering the exact area where the ground was soft from the cows feeding there.  

I could do tines in chocolate easily, and I had a good attempt at the pitch fork tines, but I’ll leave the skid loader tines to someone else.  While I watch the gate.