Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Harvest Moon

The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes to do, but liking what one has to do. Stand by your word; it speaks to who you are.

J. M. Barrie

My grandfather had a small farm where he raised beef and some grain for feed. He also worked diligently as a factory laborer and country pastor. He was a good neighbor and well-respected for honoring his word.

When harvesttime came, he’d piece together his old one-row corn picker and oil it up for the season. He pulled it behind a little Ford 9-N tractor with a wagon hooked on the back. It was a noisy contraption unlike the modern machines you see these days devouring the golden armies of grain in wide gulps.

His whole operation was like that. Basic. In fact, his life was like that, too. He worked hard, helped others, and you could count on him to keep his promises. That’s what made it so hard one autumn when difficult circumstances closed in on him.

He had promised to harvest a few ribbons of corn that wound around the hills on a friend’s farm, but after harvesting his own corn, Grandpa’s little corn picker coughed, sputtered and quit. It would be out of commission until a particular part could be ordered, but that would take far too long to help this year. Then the odds of being able to help out his neighbor got even worse; the factory where grandpa worked began to require overtime. In order to keep his job there he had to leave the farm before dawn and didn’t get home until well after sunset.

One autumn night, while harvesttime was running out, he and his wife sat at the kitchen table sipping bitter black coffee and trying to figure a way out of their dilemma.

“There’s nothing you can do,” said my grandma. “You’ll just have to tell him that you can’t help with the corn this year.”

“Well that just doesn’t sit well with me,” said my grandpa. “My friend is depending on me. I can’t exactly let my neighbor’s harvest rot in the field, can I?”

“If you don’t have the equipment, you just can’t do it,” she said.

“Well, I could do it the way we used to do it. I could harvest it by hand,” he said.

“When do you think you’d have time to do it?” she asked. “With the overtime you’ve been working you’d be up all night . . . besides it’d be too dark.”

“I know of one night that I could do it!” he said, running to the bookshelf. He grabbed the Farmer’s Almanac and started flipping through the pages until he found what he was looking for. “Aha! There’s still one more full moon in October.” As it happened, the harvest moon had yet to pass. They say it’s called the harvest moon because it gives farmers more light and more time to collect their crops. “If the Lord gives us clear weather, I think I can do it,” he said.

And so a few days later, after a long shift at the factory, my grandpa made his way to the field where my grandma met him in the truck with dinner and a steaming thermos of strong, black coffee. The weather was cold but clear, and the moon was brilliant. He worked through the night to keep his word.

I know this story well, because I’ve spent hours on that old tractor’s fender talking with my grandpa. We’ve even suffered through some of that same bitter coffee together. I’m proud to say that my parents named me after him.

Sometimes, when I’m tempted to cut corners or to put off responsibilities, I think of my grandfather with his scythe cutting wide arcs of corn in the light of the harvest moon. I hear the ears of corn hit the floor of the wagon and the music of geese crossing the cold October sky. The chilly autumn morning darkness envelops my mind and I see my grandpa, his work finally done, crawling into the seat of the old tractor and making his way home. Behind him in the pale moonlight, row after row of corn shocks stand at attention in respect for a man who keeps his word.

Kenneth L. Pierpont

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