The Staff of Life

The Staff of Life

by Marjorie Bennett of Reno, NV

It was spring, and once again we were plowing the rich, loamy soil, working the multi-toothed harrow, leveling and breaking the clods into miniscule grains of soft, warm earth. I walked bare-footed behind my dad, each step showing my high arches, and leaving little round toe prints in the freshly worked field. The planter, drawn by old Duke and Dolly, the venerable team of horses, dropped precious seeds of wheat into the furrow, then quickly covered them to just the right depth. The good earth, surrounding each kernel, cradled it lightly until it sprouted. Soon the small blades of wheat would turn the dark field into a sea of emerald green.

Growing quickly, reaching for the warmth of the Colorado sun, from within each stalk of wheat a miracle happened. One slender pedicle would shoot up. Within a few days it would begin to form the ‘head,’ composed of many grains of wheat, each one wrapped in its own snug covering. In a few weeks, each stalk would ripen in the summer sun, and the entire field, pregnant with promise, would take on a golden hue, waving in the breeze, waiting for the harvest.

Neighbors, helping each other, worked feverishly; going from farm to farm to harvest the plump, smooth kernels that had been threshed by the huge, noisy, mechanical monster, the threshing machine. Burlap sacks of wheat, each weighing near a hundred pounds, were sewn with a sharp, curved needle, threaded with strong twine, and knotted tightly. When the granary and the barn were filled to overflowing, we relinquished even our bedrooms to the fat sacks of grain.

The finest wheat was saved for next year’s seed, but most of the rest was loaded on the old Dodge pick-up truck, and with the springs creaking and groaning under the weight of it, Daddy would drive the short distance to the mill. He would place an order for white flour, whole wheat flour, cracked wheat, which made a delicious breakfast cereal if soaked and cooked slowly, and ‘shorts’ or ‘leavings’ which fed the chickens and the hogs. Nothing was wasted. No money changed hands, as the miller took his pay in wheat. The hard times of the “Thirties” taught us how to survive.

Mama was the magician in the kitchen. She could turn ordinary flour into the most delectable goodies ever tasted. We children could hardly wait, with the aroma of fresh-baked bread beckoning us to our humble kitchen. Home from school, and hungry, we would lift the snowy white flour sacks Mama had spread, to reveal six mouth-watering loaves of golden crusty bread, a pan of cinnamon rolls and dozens of dinner rolls. The covered glass butter dish, filled with freshly churned sweet butter, made us feel as though we had found the ‘Pot of Gold’ at the end of the rainbow. Mama would cut thick slices of the still warm bread for each of us. A jar of strawberry jam, or sweet spicy apple butter, made an even greater treat. Served with a glass of cold milk, what could be better?

It sustained, comforted, and supported us. No wonder we became addicted to “The Staff of Life.”