Trucks, combine, wheat — memories are made by the bushel

My father, Jerry Winterholter, and son wave as my husband, Brian Wright, climbs out of the tractor that pulls the grain cart. The tractor is parked along the uncut wheat so the combine won’t have to go out of its way to drop off a load of harvested grain.

Holding my 3-year-old son and standing next to my dad, I get ready to take my son on the combine after it finishes dumping a load of wheat into a truck. For weeks after this trip, my son talked about how he got to ride in the combine,  tractors and trucks. Photo Special to the Sentinel/ Brian Wright

This summer I packed up my family and drove over the mountains and over the prairie to the farm for harvest.

Returning to western Kansas where my great-grandparents homesteaded, my mother’s parents and now my uncle grow wheat was something my parents, siblings and I did many summers while I was growing up.

Harvest was a highlight of the year. There was the rush to get the grain in before a storm blew up and rain bogged the equipment in the mud or hail knocked the wheat over by the stem.

My siblings and I bumped along in the wheat trucks, sat in the cool of the combine — often it was the only air-conditioned piece of equipment in the field — played in piles of grain like sand and heard a bazillion warnings about getting run over, hands cut off and keeping both eyes out for rattlesnakes.

I loved it and, when I was old enough, I drove the tractor with the grain cart that would pick up the wheat from the combine on-the-go, then deliver it to the wheat trucks, which we avoided driving into the fields because sparks coming out a truck’s low exhaust pipe can light up a dry field in seconds.

After college, though, this thing and that thing got in the way of returning for harvest. The last time I was on the farm was more than 10 years ago. But this summer was different. Harvest was early and created a window for me to get my family to the farm.

My husband, Brian, is a Michigan man. He had never been to the farm and had no idea what to expect from western Kansas in July other than dirt and heat. He much prefers lakes, oceans and cool breezes and wasn’t overly excited about this trip.

I have no idea how our 3-year-old son envisioned the farm I tried to describe to him. Most likely he thought of the cows from his Baby Einstein “Baby MacDonald” DVD.

As for our 1-year-old daughter, well, if we could just get her to the farm, then she could crawl almost anywhere she wanted and all would be fine.

Getting from here to there takes at least nine hours, straight. We drove into the “yard,” the open area between the barn, garage, corrals and the farmhouse, in a cloud of dust. One or both of the kids were yelling out of frustration at still being in the car.

My parents, who were there to help with harvest, greeted us. My uncle was out in the field in the combine. Brian was about as incredulous as I was excited.

But then he got in a farm truck. Then a wheat truck. Then the combine. Then drove the tractor with the grain cart. Then the four-wheeler. It was addictive.

Our son needed no convincing. It was all exciting. Forget nap time, TRUCKS! TRACTORS! He took long rides in the combine with my uncle, watching the machine gather the wheat into itself and peering into the window behind the driver’s seat to see the wheat kernels pile in the combine’s bin.

It was hot, dusty and wonderful. I love the smell of the wheat and the fields. Brian liked the way a breeze makes a wheat field roll like the sea.

Each night I rode with my dad in the wheat truck, now upgraded to an older semi, as he hauled the day’s last load of wheat into town to the grain elevator to dump it for storage. Conversation was comments shouted over the loud engine as one of the windows was stuck down. He saw a rattlesnake on the side of the dirt road, I braced for the washer board on the curves.

I felt both in and out of myself. I’m a town girl, but my family history is the farm. In fact, on this trip, my husband, kids and I slept in the same room where my grandfather was born more than 100 years ago.

Unfortunately, the memories I have of the farm will likely be just that for my kids. My memories. At 3 and 1, they will remember this trip through photos and the stories Brian and I tell.

At this point, my uncle is our family’s last farmer. Each year, harvest becomes a little harder for him to pull off, and the summer is coming when a family harvest won’t happen.

I hope it’s not next summer. With this short taste of harvest, I want badly to go back with my family.

I want to see again the place where my grandpa sliced open a watermelon on the back of a truck during a picnic break from cutting wheat.

I want to show my kids the spot where my grandma lectured my cousin and me while she stood over a very long rattlesnake she had just decapitated using a garden hoe.

I want to hear my uncle’s chuckle while talking to my son and daughter about tractors, trucks and combines.

I want to show them the barn loft, the outhouse, the swing made from bedsprings and the sunken remains of a dugout in the pasture that was my great-grandparent’s first home.

I want to gather with my family for a little longer and harvest more memories before the chaff settles and the grain is stored for the winter. One more summer, please.


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