Rollin’ Punkins

October 10, 2015 — Leave a comment

Rollin’ Punkins is Hoosier speak for rolling pumpkins and I will in a bit explain the meaning. I have always thought that it would have been, for me anyway, a blessing to have been born a generation sooner than I was. I have always been enthralled with farm life back 80 to 100 years ago. Small, by today’s standards, family farms had everything that was needed to feed, clothe, and support a family, a few cows for milk and chickens for eggs and meat, hogs for meat and a few for sale to provide money to buy the things not available on the farm. Every farm had a large garden that provided food for the table for a whole year. The farm wife worked as much and as hard as her husband to make sure there was plenty of food put away for the ensuing winter and spring. There were horses to plow the fields and take you to town and provide fertilizer for the garden. There lies much of my fascination with the early 20th century farmer. Horses. I love horses and wish I had learned more about all the ways horses were used to farm the land. I learned early in life, by watching my Uncles, how to harness a team of horses and helped many times to do that task but I never got to drive a team or work a team in the field. I sorely miss not have those experiences.

For those of you who have put out a garden or helped put out a garden or just watched the neighbor put out a garden you know that it takes a lot of work and an even larger commitment to keep the garden producing and keep the weeds out.  If you are one of the lucky ones who have planted pumpkin seeds around the perimeter of the hill you made on the corners of the garden you know how fast the vines grow and how evasive the vines are getting into everything and every place you don’t want them. You also know that at the exact same time the blooms set on the vines the weeds seem to overtake the entire area that the pumpkin vines have overrun. Needless to say it is at this moment that the garden no longer has the neat well-kept appearance but instantly becomes a weed patch. A very unsightly show for all the work involved in putting out a garden.

Sometime someone, probably a farmer’s wife, had a brain storm, not unlike a lightbulb moment except light bulbs had not been invented yet; why not plant the pumpkins in the corn field close to the house. They could vine away and no one would notice. They would be hidden from view and there would be plenty of pumpkins for pies and Jack-O –Lanterns and even some left over to feed to the hogs. You may not know it but hogs love pumpkins and they are also fattening for the hogs.  So it started that when the farmer cultivate the corn field for the last time he would drop pumpkin seeds in the corn rows and let them vine away. They always seemed to produce an abundance of pumpkins.

Now the crux of the story. Fall would arrive and it was time to shuck the corn, which was a slow and laborious task, removing each ear from the stalk and throwing it into a wagon going around the field one row at a time. The team of horses would plod along keeping pace with the farmer until the wagon was full and then to the barn to shovel the corn into the corn crib and then return to the field.  Long days were spent harvesting the corn crop.( An aside: a cousins wife posted  on face book that they had loaded 18 simi loads of corn in one day, about 75 acres worth my figuring. Times have really changed.) But, the pumpkins were in the way. The horses pulling the wagon stepped on them and mashed them. The wagon if it could be pulled over them mashed them even more and even the farmer tripped over them. So a new task was born for the farm family mostly delegated to the kids. Rollin’ Punkins. The task was to pull the pumpkin’ from the vines and move them to the edge of the field. Three or four rows worth at a time so the farmer could start shucking and then every evening after school another four or five rows of corn had to be cleared for the next day’s shucking. This task would be a back breaker for an adult with all the bending over but for the kids it was almost like play or so I have been told.

Later in the season the pumpkins were picked up and hauled to the house or barn. Some of the pumpkins were cooked and canned. Some were immediately baked into pies and a few became jack-O-lanterns. But, the pumpkins were mostly fed to the hogs that were soon sent to market and the proceeds used to buy items necessary to get the family thru the winter. There was probably a little money left for Christmas. Presents for all.

Times have changed, what took weeks and weeks now is completed in a day or two and the kids today have no idea of what fun they are missing because Rollin’ Punkins is a thing of the past.

Thanks for listening.

Richard Isley

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