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But has technology made a better can cooler?

July 13, 2018

The wild raspberry bushes that grow on the north and south borders of the lawn are heavy with fruit.

I watch two squirrels play in the front yard. They and the cottontail that strolls through the lawn pay me no mind because I mean them no harm.

July’s heat and humidity remind me of baling hay in the days before Dad invested in a bulk tank. The can cooler was a great place for my brothers to chill beer and pop on those rare occasions hay helpers would be rewarded with such a treat.

Later in July, Mom would bring home a watermelon to share with the baling crew. The ice-cold water in the milk can cooler chilled hands to near freezing while fingers searched for cans and as a bonus found watermelon made extra sweet by the cold.

The house where Mom prepared fried chicken, mashed potatoes and pies seemed like a blast furnace in the heat. Dad relished reminding us about 1936, when it seemed temperatures regularly reached in the 90s and families took to sleeping outside despite hordes of mosquitoes.

What about air conditioning, which was a God send for city relatives who made the investment. Dad wouldn’t hear of it. Indoor cooling would entice people to be lazy and it was bad for a person’s health because the frequent contrast of hot and cool air caused colds and pneumonia.

Mother supported those positions and reminded us not to jump into the stock tank’s cold water. It seemed a cousin had done so after a day spent threshing grain and caught a fatal case of pneumonia. The youngest in the family didn’t take the plunge for another reason — older brothers had stocked it with bullheads caught in the creek. We imagined that a foot stung by a stepped-on bullhead would swell to 10 times its normal size and require a doctor’s visit.

A doctor’s visit was the most unlikely of outcomes, given that Mother was reluctant to take that step no matter how serious the situation appeared. An older brother drank from a container that held fuel meant for the wash machine’s engine and immediately fell ill. Mother forced a foul liquid down his throat and he recovered. In fact, yhe taste was apparently so good that my brother repeated his near-fatal mistake, which ended with the same emergency treatment.

Shoeless summers often caused feet to be pierced by nails, broken glass and even alfalfa stubble. Manure squished between the toes felt better than one might expect, but open sores caused Mother no small amount of concern. Mother made sure everyone’s tetanus shots were updated, which was even more important when a pitchfork’s tine pierced work shoes during calf-pen pitching.

July brought an end to Mother’s strawberry and rhubarb harvest. Strawberries were made into sweet jam and preserves and frozen. Rhubarb was made into jam made sweeter by orange candy wedges; rhubarb pie and ice cream was the baling crew’s best reward.

The grain binder, ignored and left to the birds and bees for all but July and August, became the center of attention. Its canvas often needed repair, which was done by the skilled hands of the hardware store owner. Made by prisoners at Stillwater, Minn., twine fit snuggly into the binder’s round container. Opening the winter wheat field meant tossing bundles out of the way. Dad enjoyed grain harvest, because more than any other person, he knew how to make the best shocks in the least amount of time.

The threshing crew fell apart after Dad purchased a pull-behind-the-tractor combine. He did so reluctantly, insisting that no combine could do as good a job harvesting grain as an immobile threshing machine. Few other farmers felt the way that he did about the new technology.