Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 18 Neighbors

“Neighboring” was an important fact of life on the farm from the pioneering days right up through the Thirty’s. The times demanded interdependence. Developing technology later made independence a mater of widespread possibility; certainly, that was so with the coming of the tractors and labor-saving machines of all kinds. With more leisure time, travel, entertainment and social life, generally the tempo of living also increased with less emphasis on personal friendship with neighbors.

I grew up during the neighborly times. Neighbor would call on neighbor for help on certain seasonal jobs that required help, such as harvest time and threshing the grain. In specific areas a thresher man would own a steam engine and threshing machine and would hire out to the local farmers. The wheat, oats or barley would be cut and tied in bundles with a grain binder pulled by horses, or later by a tractor. Then it would be set up in shocks, several bundles standing up together something like a teepee, protecting the grain from damp ground while awaiting threshing.

The threshing crew would set up the machines. Neighborhood farmers got together with wagons to haul bundles to the threshing machine and the threshed grain to bin or to market.

We younger boys hired out at a pittance to carry water to the field hands or do other odd jobs. We were especially delighted to eat with the entire crew at noon. The farmer wives put forth special effort, it seemed, to outdo each other with their culinary achievements! And we ATE!

Uncle Edwin Wheeler and his family lived at the adjoining farm. There was considerable camaraderie among the children when we got together. Uncle Edwin did a lot of the cattle speculating. He had his own truck and left the farming pretty much up to Aunt Mabel, the boys and hired hands. Unfortunately, a coolness developed between him and Dad relating to a property disagreement arising from a bungled parental will.

Dad and Phil Babcock had a warm friendship. Phil was an interesting man. He married a “mail-order bride.” Her name was Hilda, and I assume that she was of recent German descent. She was very kind to us boys and her cooking had a special appeal to us. Later I learned that she made life difficult for her husband, although to us she was very kind.

Phil had a great sense of humor. His laugh amused us. He would end it by hissing through his teeth. When I took my lovely young bride to visit the home folk on our honeymoon, he was working there. At the dinner table he observed: “She looks pretty enough to eat! That’s what I thought about my wife, and later I wished I had “et” her.”

Among the jobs that we helped Phil with were picking up his large crop of potatoes and putting them in the cellar. We also worked together to cut firewood. Hilda kept everything about their place spotless, including the cellar and the milk house and cream separator. That especially impressed me. Phil liked us boys, and when he moved up from a Model T Ford pickup to a Victory Six Dodge, he sold the Ford to us very cheap.

Henry and Myrtle Meyers lived a mile west of our home in a neat little bungalow type house on a farm of 40 acres. They had one daughter, whom I never met but I think she was a nurse. They were a quiet couple, and I wonder if they might have been Quakers. As women began to assert their liberty in the Thirty’s, Henry was stunned to see a woman smoking as she drove by. “Did you see that, Ernest? That woman was smoking!” When the ladies began to appear publicly wearing slacks, which were then called “pajamas”, the farm folk were shocked as well. Mr. Meyer decided to replace his Model A Ford with a 1937 Packard. Not being familiar with a different transmission, he got confused and drove it through the end of his garage.

Lee Reynolds and his wife lived in a ramshackle building that looked like an old settler’s home. He had a very soft voice. She wore an old fashioned sunbonnet and raised a wonderful garden. He more or less farmed with a mule for power. I don’t understand how they survived, but they lived simply and seemed content.

The two Maris brothers lived about a half mile east of our home on farms across the road from one another. Fred’s wife’s name was Myra, a short, feisty lady with spine curvature. Jesse’s wife was Hanna, a rather sharp, inquisitive lady. Both had families a generation ahead of my age. Both lived on a higher level materially than did many of the farmers nearby. They both drove cars that were somewhat the envy to others: Fred drove a Nash and Jesse a Studebaker.

Tall, gangly Fred was noted for being tight-fisted. He was first in the area to have electricity from a wind-powered generator. With his shrewdness, he managed well financially.

Jesse was stocky and had white hair and a mustache. He spoke slowly and deliberately. He ended up in bankruptcy. At that time it caused considerable neighborhood talk, as it was considered to be dishonest. Perhaps it seemed worse, as he was a respected member of the local Seventh Day Baptist church.

Fred and Jesse were both on the local threshing circuit. Jesse had a sunstroke and collapsed while cutting wheat. The word got out quickly and several concerned neighbors came with their tractors and binders to finish cutting his wheat. In just a few hours it was all done.

Not to be overlooked was Mert Crosswhite. He was a drawly kind of person. When he spoke, it was generally with a gesture of his hand and his comments were prefaced with, “Now you take . . .” He bought my Model A Ford, wore it out and put it to rest in his pasture. My brother Bob married one of his two daughters, Madeline.

Elza (or Elzy) Henry was a kind of gentleman farmer. He drove a pretty, gray 1927 Chevrolet, and he was so friendly that he would almost turn backwards as he passed, to make sure that he had not missed waving at somebody.

We were truly a neighborhood, and I miss that spirit. Yet I find that that friendliness has been passed on to some of the younger generation who grew up in that atmosphere.

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