Grandma Cookie was finally able to catch her breath after spending much of December baking sugar, chocolate chip and molasses cookies for her grandchildren, who numbered more than 30.
Married adult children, who numbered 10, were not forgotten. Mother ordered boxes of oranges and apples from the grocer and delivered them to each household Christmas week.
The cookie treats, which seemed to disappear almost as soon as they emerged from the oven, earned her the well-deserved honor of “Grandma Cookie.’’ The name delighted and inspired her to ensure none of the children left the house empty handed.
Crackling cookies — made from the solid remains left when pork lard was rendered — were kept for in-house use because overindulging on them could cause stomach upset. Cracklings, seasoned with salt, tided us over between meals.
Dad butchered two or three hogs each winter the old-fashioned way. Hot water was poured in a cast-iron kettle, the animals dunked, and hair scraped. Tradition and practicality meant all except the squeal be used.
Pigs’ feet, tail and ears when cooked with sauerkraut and potatoes produced hearty suppers; heads quartered and boiled so that jowl meat made headcheese; and kidneys, tongue and brains heated in a cast-iron skillet to produce a gravy-like concoction poured over mashed potatoes. Dad — as was his right — demanded the brains as his proper portion.
The end of Christmas break — despite the cold and hard work on the farm — was greeted with no small amount of dread. Even then, farm kids were a minority in the public school. National headquarters for canning company Green Giant were in Le Sueur. Many children of the executives did not understand what made farm children tick and for our part it seemed that we were looked down upon.
As a disinterested student, I dreaded school for different reasons. Disengaged, I benefited in most classrooms because my last name allowed for back row seating. The school building was warm, and sleep came easily. Most teachers paid scant attention, save for Mr. Stuart, who decided to intervene on my behalf.
Before his hourlong class started, Mr. Stuart offered a visual inspection.
“Mr. Wilmes,’’ he said countless times before class started. “Go to the lavatory, comb your hair and tuck in your shirt.’’ It was his opinion that a person could not feel good if he did not look good. The classroom that mattered was back at the farm, where problems with calf scours, pneumonia and ringworm were real.
I was allowed reentry after passing reinspection. The attention left a bad impression with classmates. The impression was hardened when the guidance counselor required everyone to take a career aptitude test with a one-on-one visit to discuss its conclusions.
With a facial expression that resembled a preacher as he discussed sin, the counselor delved into the test’s conclusions.
Its conclusions, he said, indicated that I might have an interest in becoming a mortician or working at Green Giant during the sweetcorn or pea pack. Mother — who had her fill of parent-teacher conferences that regularly concluded that her son needed to apply himself more — said such results must be taken with a grain of salt.
Dad asked what I wanted to do.
I wanted to milk cows. It was only later that I decided to take a few college classes as long as farming was still an option. Dad thought it a bad idea and freely offered that opinion. None of his other children and gone and there was no need for me to do so.
However, it could be done so to have the best of both worlds — the cows and college. Many decades later most of the classes are forgotten, but not the cows, whose names and habits regularly return along with crackling cookies, fruit boxes and butchering days.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.