Afternoon Lunch



(By Florence Renfrow)



The morning hours weren't too bad...the minutes fairly flew.

The teams were fresh, as were the men...out on the threshing crew.

The coolness of the early morn inspired feats of brawn.

And a rivalry existed as the wagons moved along

To see how many bundles could be lifted at one time

Or who could build the highest load for someone else to climb.

The teams responded quickly to a tug upon the rein,

And lots of good hard work was done to bring in all the grain.


But, after dinner, when they'd see those endless rows of shocks,

The bundles seemed much heavier, the wheels hit all the rocks.

The sun burned down up on them, the dust was a torment,

And the horses fought the devilish flies that came in thick descent.

The loads would come to take their turn to pitch the bundles off,

Then off they'd go to load once more and never a man could scoff

If a team turned wrong or a team ran off for it happened to everyone.

Threshing wheat in the hot afternoon really wasn't much fun!


But, oh, how welcome the wagon would be bringing out afternoon lunch!

Those who were there at the threshing machine hunkered down all in a bunch

As the tin cups filled with coffee and the sandwiches were unwrapped.

Miseries and problems just disappeared and a whole new course was mapped.

Just to rest for a while in the stubble field and watch the machinery run

Put new life into a weary man and was needed by everyone.

It was the nicest part of the threshing day and it made everybody smile

When it was time for afternoon lunch and they could rest for awhile.









Commentary (Tim Johnson)


In the previous picture, a threshing crew takes a break for afternoon lunch. It is probably the late summer or fall of 1943 in central North Dakota. Charlie – Florence's husband to be – faces the camera in a big hat, second from the left. Charlie is fresh out of High School and will go to war against the Nazis in a few weeks. My father kneels with his back to the camera. He is 30 years old and the eldest of the crew. He will outlive everyone there and decades later, will tell me how much he misses all of them.

Mobile combine harvesters will replace threshers soon, but there will still be just as much hard labor and afternoon lunch. In those days, in that place, that kind of work made five meals a day essential.

The same would be true in the my following generation. The day started with breakfast. A break was taken around 10:00 AM to wolf down a morning lunch of sandwiches and cookies. The noon meal was called dinner. The afternoon lunch was about 3:00 and supper was the evening meal, yet there were times when one might go back into the field after supper and do more work by the light from a tractor or combine.

Here's a day in my youth: It's haying season; hay has been freshly cut and processed into bales that weigh an average fifty pounds a piece. The bales lie on the ground with their strings down. The strings will rot and break in a few weeks if the bales are not taken off the field or at least put into little stacks with the bottom row on their sides so that the strings do not touch the ground.

Stacks that remain in the field will entice field mice to nest in them and the mice will chew and break the strings. A broken bale takes several times as long to handle as an unbroken one. Farming is a discipline of efficient use of time. The goal is to haul the hay home as promptly as possible. Nature is calling the shots.

There's five in the bale hauling crew. Two tractors pull wagons we called hay-racks. A kid driving each tractor and a kid on each hay-rack doing the stacking. Pitchfork in hand, I walk the field beside a hay-rack. As we come to a bale, I drive the pitchfork into it and swing the fifty-pound load onto the wagon. The first row stacked is just over waist high. As the load fills it rises to six layers high and I am lifting the bale with the pitchfork high over my head.

When one hay-rack is loaded, the emptied other is right behind it. I lift two thousand bales this day, walking and pitchforking non-stop for over two hours at a time.

By the afternoon, the temperature is over 80 degrees. Red-winged blackbirds wheel overhead, riding the cool air currents. Since they are such efficient foragers, their day's work is done. These smug spectators entertain themselves with the endeavor below them. As I raise bales above my head, hay fragments rain down, mixing with the sweat on my face and arms.

Afternoon lunch is blissful. I inhale two sandwiches and drink a quart of cool-aid in one gulp.