Every Labor Day, we would make our way to a small little farm in central Missouri. “The Mohan’s farm.” Very little was actually planned. Everyone just showed up with tents, little campers and enough food to last through an apocalypse.
Horses, ponds, whole pig roasts, many card games played into the wee hours of the night, under one bare light bulb in a dilapidated old farmhouse. Bits of all these memories kept sitting idle in my head, mostly because they were simply too many stories, with too many themes. Good stories tend to demand a central point, a scaffolding to hang all one’s details on.
Unfortunately, I tackled this project too late, as one of the very last of the organizing generation, Carol Mohan, recently passed at age 96.
The men talked, the women talked, and cooked. All of the adults played a lot of games of horseshoes. The young people played. Except for the late night cards, under the bare light bulb, all of our games were made up. We would simply horse around until we started to think about how we could turn whatever it was that we were doing, into a competition. This repeating phenomenon seemed inevitable. Some of the games that we young people made up were interesting enough to entice the adults to chime in with a, “can we play?” Now, it’s a rare game where kids and adults can play on an equal footing, the pond with a nice dock was a major draw to the festivities. Someone had brought a bunch of small plastic boats, which resembled oversized plastic wash basins almost as much as boats.
The game: everyone gets into their tub/boat, and paddles around the pond with their hands. The idea was to sink your worthy opponents, much like a floating demolition derby at a county fair, only on the water. Once sunk, you’re out! No swimming sinkers aloud. No matter how recently a rule had been invented, they were strictly enforced! Now, usually a competitive adult would wipe out a scrawny little kid, such as myself, but these strapping men and women, once wedged into their craft and readied for battle, were of dubious sea worthiness. I, though small and scrawny, had buoyancy to spare!
In our play, generally no rules existed, except, don’t ride the horse named BJ, for he was a large willful beast that only John Mohan, also a large willful beast, could ride. I somehow came to wonder if they both enjoyed the battle. Neither one wanting to admit defeat, the two of them made it work, somehow. The other horses were fairly docile and well behaved, except for their clever brains had figured out that they could scrape the barnacles off their backs by walking under low hanging branches. They would look back with, “oh, did I do that?” and then walked themselves back to the stable.
The outhouse stunk to high heaven. The well was as iconoclastic as one could be, with the circular stone wall and the bucket on a chain, to be lowered down and hauled back up. Though it was rather deep, I kind of wished that there was a little more distance between the two.
It was decided, one year, that providing sustenance to the clan needed to be provided by roasting an entire pig over a bonfire. This endeavor would complete the rite of masculine hunter/gatherer connection to the way things used to be, a sharpened flint fastened onto the front of an a arrow, or lead musket ball, made by pouring molten lead from a cast iron kettle over a fire, into a round cavity of a special set of players. In this particular case, I believe that the beast was felled by a credit card, but the roasting remained unchanged. One of the men made a rotisserie out of steel gas pipes, all threaded together with couplings. It had right angle couplings on one end, making a crank that the patriarchs could turn, thus giving us a wonderful focus, and bonding… until, someone on shift had not gotten the memo about the steel pipe coupling, existing somewhere in the middle of the pig, and cranked the handle counterclockwise in ignorance, unscrewing threaded pipe, until the whole beast suddenly fell into the fire.
At night, after all of card games, ball throwing and boat sinkings had become recent memories, after quietly peering at the stars in an inky black sky, waiting for small meteors to crash into our atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour, by the last red embers of was once a magnificent fire – we were then serenaded through the night by the croaking of the bullfrogs living along the edges of the pond, probably ever so grateful to be rid of the day dwellers. And sing they did, loud and deep, individual voices with a steady rhythm, but having no conductor, some would slowly catch up with their neighbor, then sing in harmony for a short bit, until the one in a hurry would slowly pull ahead again.
It was something of a St. Peters church group, but I think that was only by happenstance, as one of the families was Jewish, and I rarely heard the Lord’s name, with the exception of when the pig went into the fire.
Labor Day at Mohan’s farm.
It was located in one of the poorer areas of central Missouri A wee bit hilly, a wee bit rocky, interspersed with patches of scrub oak, it was not at all conducive to traditional big farm crops. It was, however, smack dab in the middle of grape growing country-of the uniquely Missouri variety- the Concord grape. The concord is an interesting variety: The dark, navy blue skin is much hardier, perhaps tougher than most grapes, housing an intensely sweet gelatinous mass, loosely bound to that outer fortress, and thus, easily sucked out, once that bitter shell had been popped. The task of swallowing these morsels off the vine had only begun at this point, as the very sweet gelatinous mass, having a flavor and aroma of the cheap grape jelly pops given out at Halloween, the ones from the frumpy people’s houses, the one’s where the occupants clearly said “back in my day, we didn’t have such things as chocolate, or worse yet, peanut butter contraptions, wrapped in chocolate, we got cheap, sickly sweet, hard suckers, on the end of a paper stick. That’s the way it was, and we liked it!” This all ending with some mumbling… “chocolate covered peanut butter my ass…” You know the type. Anyway, it tastes like that… With the addition of very bitter seeds, that you had to strain out by sucking the mass through your front teeth, like a cotton gin, except most cotton gins don’t have braces.
In addition to being very good for making jelly and jam, and the possible base for candy given out by cheap people, the concord grape is also used in wine making. The labors of the vintners produce a wine that is very, very…. VERY! fruit forward. Drank in modest amounts, it is still sure to give you a headache the next day.
Ah, David, you can always make me laugh! Your description of what Concord grapes are like and the cheap Halloween treat givers are hilarious.
Sounds like you and those families had some really good times on that farm. Wish I could have seen the tub games.