The day held great promise as I drove down the dirt road to my uncles. The farm sits high on a hill overlooking a valley that contains a stream called the Little Loyalsock. The area is called the endless mountains and is in northeast Pennsylvania. The mountains (more like massive hills than the mountains out west) are a northern extension of the Appalachian mountains and there is very little really flat land in the area. You can get a very good view across the valley as you approach the old farm house that was built above a spring on the side of the fields. I am on the “high” road which goes through cultivated land, but once you pass the house the road descends steeply into a valley surround by pastures that are going back to nature. Since the creamery closed, the number of dairies have been greatly reduced. The climax forest of pine and spruce was cleared around the turn of the 20th century and the second growth forest is mainly maple and other deciduous trees. On this day the maples were glowing, even through the cool mists of early morn.
It would be the last trip from my aunts, in town, to pick potatoes for this year. Ground fog lay in the hollows of the road, but it will be a bright day filled with a blue sky with an invigorating temperature. I ache from two weeks of intense activity as we fill the storage with twenty acres of potatoes. It has been a good growing season and that is a lot of potatoes. After getting a bit of breakfast from my aunt and sympathy for my aching body, we go into the fields. My uncle alternates potatoes with oats and it is a pretty picture of freshly dug soil, fields of grain and heavily timber hills of brilliant maples dressed in orange, yellow and red that greet me.
We have a small crew today, for there is only a half days work in the far corner of the field left to dig. My uncle, who permanently damage his knee on a piece of equipment some years before, drives the equipment and inspires us with his elation at the successful completion of the harvest. The day unfolds like a dream, with a steady pace of progress and ideal conditions to enjoy the moment of success. I feel strong and in tune with the land. At lunch break we say goodbye to the crew, for my uncle has decided that he and I can finish the field before dinner. So now the stage is set for a defining moment in my life. My uncle drives the tractor, that pulls the digger down under the ground and lifts the potatoes up and leaves them on the surface of the soil, that is shaken off them. Together we gather the stretch of exposed potatoes and put them on a conveyor belt that dumps them into the truck. This effort is repeated for the rest of the day until we have the last of the potatoes on board. The warm late afternoon sun shines through the translucent brightly colored leaves, as my uncle smiles and softens after weeks of intense effort and concern. The sky, the trees, the work and the man combine to instill in me a deep appreciation of my ancestor’s efforts to survive. I felt like I belonged in a way that I have never felt before or since. Even today the memory brings strong emotions in me, to the surface.
I was never to pick potatoes again. I got married the next year and there was not time to do such a uninteresting, solitary things like working in potatoes. My uncle gave up farming a few years later and sold the land to others. I saw him only a few times after that harvest before he died of cancer. I had not known him much as a child since my mother had married a city slicker and moved away. So when I appeared in the spring without work, the first year, he had reservations about me being willing to work. I had soft white hands and a college education, but I was his sister’s son so he felt obligated to try me. So when his wife said I was “good help” after years of effort, I knew I had earned their respect and my own. I faced this personal challenge for five years and I would have collapsed in the field before letting us down and not being good help.