Mail Call: Letters to the Editor in our May/June 2018 Issue
Intoxicating Corn Memories
In the fall, as I drive through the rural roads and farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I see the corn being harvested, much of it being chopped for filling silos. There is a certain heady smell of early fermentation as the mixture of finely cut stalks, leaves, cobs, and kernels are blown back into the high enclosed wagons to be hauled back to the farmstead and preserved for feeding the livestock over the winter months.
This brings back a memory of working on a farm in my youth in the late 1940s outside of East Greenville, Pennsylvania, where I labored in a corn-chopping operation, which included blowing the mixture up the long 6-inch pipe to the top of the concrete silo where it settled to the bottom and gradually filled all the way up some 60 feet or so. As the fermentation process developed over the next few weeks and months, the smell in the immediate vicinity was not unlike a low budget brewery or distillery. This smell was almost strong enough to override the normally lingering aroma of the cow stable.
Over the winter months, each morning one would climb up the freezing enclosed chute on iron rungs to the top to scoop and throw the silage down to the waiting feed cart below to be wheeled into the stable and fed to the cattle. They loved the stuff, and would eagerly await their allotment forked into their feed mangers. It was hard work and labor intensive since this was before mechanical silage unloaders.
We had an older, semi-retired gentleman named Mr. Butcher who helped part-time on the farm doing jobs that were not too demanding for his energy level. He was good with animals, worked well at his assigned tasks, and had a pleasant demeanor. His one request — and I guess one could say his one weakness — was to have two weeks leave of absence every spring when the silo was almost empty. I was puzzled by this until one day he explained his annual ritual.
At some point over the years, he had acquired an unglazed earthenware gallon jug, pale-tan in color and porous in design, so as to act as a crude ceramic filter of sorts when properly utilized. Every fall, when we began the filling process, he would place that jug in the bottom of the silo and let the whole structure full of chopped goodies fill up on top of it. The fermenting juices from the silage percolating down under the great pressure of 60-some feet of deadweight would slowly seep through the pores and fill the jug with the clearest, pure (mostly) form of his own “white lightning.”
With only about a foot or so of silage remaining in late spring, he would eagerly enter the almost empty repository to retrieve his treasured elixir, and carefully bring it out in preparation for his annual silage sabbatical.
One time, I was there when he dug out his volatile vessel, and he pulled out the corncob stopper and let me sniff the contents. As I recall, my eyes watered, my nose stung, and my toes spread inside my barn boots. I’m no chemist, but I think that concoction had great potential as an engine degreaser, a metal etching agent, or an aggressive drain cleaner. I vowed at that point to continue to stick with my homemade root beer.
Starting the following day, he would then be unreachable for about a full two-week period, or until the full gallon was consumed. To the best of my knowledge, he never drank between spring celebrations, and saved his liquid rite of passage for that one time of year, his annual corn squeezins’ carnival.
I enjoyed your article on the projects made from pallets (“Pallet Projects for the Home & Garden,” November/December 2017). Enclosed is a picture of the 8-footlong table my stepson, Keith Boyd, made for his deck. The variety of your magazine makes it one of my favorites. Keep up the good work!
Bookworm Recognizes an Article
When I get my Grit in the mail, I sit myself down and start reading from cover to cover. I started in on “Cattleman Catlow,” not reading the author’s name, and stopped at the third paragraph. This sounded familiar to me. I realized that it was Louis L’Amour, and I’d read the book many years before. I’ve also seen the movie, Catlow, with Yul Brunner, Richard Crenna, and Leonard Nimoy, produced in 1971. Both are wonderful. Being the bookworm that I am, reading that excerpt just made my day and brought a big smile to my face. Thanks, Grit!
My husband, Mike, and I have a beef farm in Portville, New York. It’s in the foothills of the Allegany Mountains; gorgeous area and the “world’s best kept secret” according to my son-in-love from Kurdistan, Iraq. We’re trying to turn his two young boys into dashtaki (Kurdish for “farmer”).
Portville, New York
Apple Box Furniture
The article about apple box furniture (“Apple Box Furniture,” March/April 2018) brought to mind a little dressing table my folks made for me as a young girl, probably about 65 years ago. It was made from some sort of wooden fruit box, apple perhaps, stood on end with the center divider making a shelf and painted pale blue, as best as I can remember.
Mother made a gathered, ruffled skirt from a flowered print cotton fabric that was attached around three sides of the top edge with decorative tacks; it opened down the front for access to the shelf inside, like curtains coming together. I remember standing in front of it to brush and comb my hair, looking in a small mirror on the wall behind it, and it seems
I kept a little jewelry box on top. I don’t know whatever happened to that little item, but thank you for bringing back a long-forgotten memory!
A Fishing Tale
I enjoy Grit Magazine immensely. Being a 74-year-old disabled retired farmer, it helps keep my interest sparked. I enjoyed your fishing story, and hopefully you enjoy mine.
We have seven married sons. Last summer, they decided to do something different. They all have boys to take along fishing, and missed the times of fishing together when younger. They proclaimed a “Brothers Fishing Day.” I, the old man, hadn’t been fishing in years because of health problems.
They begged enough that I finally gave in to go along. A friend took us eight out on his pontoon named “What a Day.” A warm day on Lake Chautauqua. They made sure I was comfortable. Everyone caught a mess of perch. I caught the only crappie. I always felt there is nothing better than taking a boy fishing or hunting, to kindle a spark to last a lifetime. Good luck fishing this spring.
The boys are catching lots of crappies, 11 to 15 inches, and some nice perch, lately.
Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania
Back in the 1930s, during The Depression, when I was 10 years old living in Campus, Illinois, I sold The Grit to almost every home in Campus — about 250 homes.
I sold so many, I won a beautiful red wagon, which I used to carry The Grit from home to home. Two years later, I won a bike.
My father owned a tavern, but lost it in The Depression, and my mother got very ill and died. We had to move, which stopped my selling of The Grit.
We wound up in a really rough life where our father was able to obtain a tavern near Chicago, and he had to bootleg whiskey to make a living and sold most of it to Al Capone, who we met many times. Since I did not attend high school, I joined the Navy, where I served on board a carrier, The Ranger. After 11 years in the Navy, I got my GED and went to college for my degree in electrical engineering. I started to live a more decent life.
I served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature for five terms. I became very effective in law enforcement, and being on the state crime commission, I was effective in placing powerful state officials in prison.
New Tripoli, Pennsylvania
What an extraordinary life, Mr. Zellar, and thank you for all you have given to society. Crazy to think it all started with selling Grit newspapers door to door! Thank you for sharing. — Editors
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