AMERICAN SCENE THAT'S VANISHING


| March/April 1966

Ridgetop, Tennessee

There is serenity in the Wheatfield, now that the harvest has come. No more restlessness as it was when tall young wheat swayed in the wind, waiting for maturity. I am thinking of this, as I watch the combine pull away from the Wheatfield headed for the next farm where it will be finished before dark, and I am thinking how quick is the combine and regretfully ask why doesn't it have a whistle? Which reminds me of another harvest, and I go back in memory to my childhood.

From the moment the lonely sound of the big steam engine's whistle was heard down the road, letting us know we were the next farm on the list, to the time when it died away in the distance at dusk, this was the most exciting day of the year for country people. Not only that, but it was one of the social events that we always looked forward to because this was a time when everyone came to work and eat and visit.

We got up very early the day we knew the wheat thresher was due at our house because there were eight or ten frying size chickens to dress and the big country ham to be gotten from the smoke house, and dozens of eggs to stuff and potato salad to make in the new white enamel dish-pan.



We children were chased out of the kitchen, but we didn't mind since the excitement was outside the house, what with the big steam engine puffing up the country road, its whistle sounding throughout the country telling the people the wheat-thresher was coming. Next was the trek into the Wheatfield, the big black engine leading the way, puffing and snorting and the driver pulling the whistle cord.

The thresher, that had previously looked to us like some terrible animal, followed tame and obedient behind the engine now. The wagon and mules came next with the farmers guiding them toward the Wheatfield. We stood awed and silent as we watched the straw flying from the hugh mouth of the thresher and the golden grain sliding into the sacks placed for it. Finally, the noon hour came and the men went to the cool shady back yard to freshen up under the trees. The men had first place at the table. Platter after platter of country ham, fried chicken and stuffed eggs disappeared. Bowl after bowl of creamed potatoes, green peas, potato salad and pickled beets faded away and the women were busy running back and forth to the kitchen for more. Gallons of iced tea and lemonade were consumed. Then Mama proudly brought out the dessert -fresh blackberry cobbler made from wild blackberries picked by us the day before on the hillside of our farm. Finally the last grain was threshed and hauled to the grainery for safe keeping until the wheat could be carried to market. We watched the big steam engine pulling the thresher away from our house and down the road to the next farm. After it had gone a short distance, the driver pulled the whistle cord in farewell and the lonely sound echoed and re-echoed throughout the country, and back into our hearts, and we were sad because it had gone. Even then as we watched, it seemed that we knew one day this and all it represented would slip away from the American scene and be no more.