July 14, 2013: Bean Walking

    Bean walking crew of the 70's
    (back - Aunt Kathy, Mom, Dad, Uncle Rich, Uncle Guy)
    (front - me, Mark and Matt)
We all know the feelings of summer. Those small reminders that capture the essence of our youth; the feel of the warm sun on our face while laying back with closed eyes or the sound of sprinklers with the lingering smell of freshly cut grass. These are the feelings of my youthful summers that resonate through me each time I encounter them.

Although not a feeling I experience frequently, another memory is the feel of wet plants rubbing against my exposed legs. Yes, this is the memory of bean walking on those many early June and July Iowa mornings in years past. If you grew up in the farm country of the Midwest, you completely understand what I’m talking about.

While my children complain of having to get up early on an occasional summer morning for a camp, job, or sporting event; they haven’t a clue on how the sound of an alarm clock felt to child getting ready to walk beans.

For those inexperienced in the former art of bean walking (machines and chemicals have made this trade obsolete), let me explain a bit. In order to receive top dollar for their harvested crops in the fall, farmers would work diligently to produce weed-free fields of soybeans. In the seventies this task was accomplished by use a work force well trained in the art of identifying milk weeds, button weeds, and arrant corn stocks. Each unintended plant visitor had a differing method of removal.

My brothers and I were well trained in the use of our hoe versus pulling weeds deep from the root with our gloved hands. In later years, we were given spray bottles filled with Round Up (which I now think probably wasn’t a such a good idea for our long-term health).

Bean walking was a common job that most all kids from my hometown held at some point in their childhood. With our grandfather a soybean farmer, this was a summer job my brothers and I held our entire childhood. But our grandparents paid us well; much better than our friends earned at other farms and we never questioned this as our designated annual summer activity. We started our summer days waking before the sun rose so we would be ready to take on the rows of beans at the crack of daylight. 

The pay-off for all of our hard work was felt at the end of the summer when we received our bean walking money. Grandma was the family farm bookkeeper and would keep track of our hours by day in her large leather-bound ledger. At the end of the season, she would carefully tally our final hours and neatly write us each a check.

Included on each check in the memo section, in her very immaculate handwriting, would be her careful pay calculations. This check always seemed massive in amount and felt magical in our pockets as we traveled to the bank. Although much of it was put into savings, we were also allowed to have some mad money for a shopping splurge.

Then at the close of each summer, our parents would take us to Omaha for a long weekend full of visiting Aunt Joan, swimming in the hotel pool, and shopping with a portion of our earnings. The picture below is of Matt and me, post-swim, showing off our new purchases. We were thrilled, to say the least. Somehow all of those early mornings and dirt clog wars became a distant memory.There were many lessons learned in those endless fields of beans.     
Matt and I show off our new treasures


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