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Working on Independence Day

It had been blistering hot on my grandpa’s wheat ranch. We’d gotten the call that harvest would be a week sooner because it was nearly ready.


My summer job was helping in the kitchen. I’d been well-trained by my grandmother who knew how to cook for a harvest crew and have it ready on time.


But, looking at the calendar, I’d be away from friends on the 4th of July. As a teen, I looked forward to staying out late, watching fireworks, and cruising around.


Now I’d be on a wheat ranch in the middle of nowhere. No friends. No fireworks. No fun.

I unpacked my suitcase in the tiny bedroom that had once been my dad’s. The single window looked out toward the adjacent cinder-block building that served as the crew kitchen. It featured a linoleum floor and Formica table with eight chairs. Cooking was done on one side and laundry on the other.  A window held one of those air conditioning units that tried to keep up with the intense heat.


Hundreds of acres of wheat was ripe for the harvest.

The following morning, Grandma was busy making hash browns, when I walked in at 5:30.  A hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and toast was served. The crew headed towards the trucks that would take them to the fields where the combines waited.


After breakfast, we did prep work for lunch. Three chickens were roasting in an outdoor rotisserie. I made potato salad, fruit salad, and cut up fresh green beans that we’d cook later.


At ten in the morning, it was already in the upper eighties. I took ten burlap-covered gallon jugs and filled them with cold well water. I lugged them to the ’65 Ford pick-up and then drove across a bumpy dirt lane near the wheat field where the crew would soon be.  I gave them the water, along with a bag of homemade cookies.


Arriving back at the kitchen, I set the table and prepared the green beans. The meal was ready and so were the hungry men that arrived at noon. Round two.


Dinner prep was followed by another huge meal, clean up, and then the men sat wearily in the lawn chairs set up beneath the shade of the trees. They sipped sodas, and then wandered towards the bunk house.


July 4th at home looked much different.


I grabbed my dad’s old green bike and peddled down the country road. The sun had set making it seem a bit cooler. About two miles down the road was the Kramer cemetery—a plot of ground where my ancestors now rested.


I opened the rickety gate and went inside and read their names. I wondered about their stories. I’m certain they had worked as hard as I had that day and didn’t have many opportunities to complain about it either.


I looked up and was surrounded by  thousands of acres of wheat land. This had been their life, and it was now the life of my grandparents.


Pedaling back to the ranch, I sensed that what was worth celebrating was the freedom I was enjoying.


My friends would still be there when I got back, and there would be fireworks to enjoy another time. But freedom? That was what many worked so hard to achieve. Now it was my turn to work for it and help others have it too.



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