Harvest home

Feb 13th, 2007 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Sitting, trying to put words together for my grandmother’s funeral, memories came flooding back.

My grandfather was a farmer behind his times. He farmed in a prosperous part of the country, but never believed in borrowing money, so lacked the capital to modernise, but he was happy in doing things in the way he had always done them.

In the days before I had to go to school, I remember sitting on the back of the old carthorse, Dinah, as she pulled the hoe up and down between the rows of mangold wurzels. Mangold wurzels are a good bit bigger than Swedes or turnips. They were grown to provide winter fodder for the cows. When they were brought back to the farm, they were put in a big pile and covered in straw until they were needed. Before being fed to the cows they were put into a grinder, which was mostly turned by hand; the grinder turned the mangolds into chips about an inch square.

Harvest time was no more modern. The binder, pulled by a grey Massey Ferguson tractor, would go slowly up and down through fields of wheat. The sheaves would be put into stooks until they were gathered on a trailer and taken back to the barn. It always fascinated me how sheaves could be bound together with twists of straw when the binder twine broke – it never worked when I tried.

Threshing time was a great occasion. Perhaps the memory is faulty, but it seemed to be in the springtime, after the sheaves had been in storage over the winter. The threshing machine was a huge and unsightly thing; it made a terrible din and sent out clouds of dust that could instantly bring on asthma in a frail, small boy. The machine was driven by a belt attached to a huge green Fordson tractor, the sort of vehicle that now appears at vintage engine rallies.

Harvest time and threshing time were times when neighbouring farmers came to help. They were days of great companionship and laughter. No many ever changed hands; when they needed help, you went to work for them.

People really didn’t take holidays, but there was the odd day trip. My grandfather used to tell of going on a steamer excursion to France in the 1930s – I think it was the biggest journey he ever made.

My grandfather died in 1991. When he was buried a sheaf of wheat was placed on his coffin – a sign of his lifelong work as a farmer; a sign that he had been gathered in like wheat at the end of the summer; a sign that just as the wheat sown in the ground springs up in new life, so we believe that those who are buried will rise again from the dead.

At my grandmother’s funeral on Friday we will sing the most famous of the harvest hymns, it concludes with words that look back to days on the farm and look forward to the time to come,

“Even so, Lord, quickly come,
to thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels come,
raise the glorious harvest home”.

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