At a gathering last weekend, where we read poetry and plays, I chose to read James Whitcomb Riley's "When the Frost is on the Punkin" -- a poem I grew up with, being a Hoosier like Riley, and speaking the dialect in which he wrote it. I'm not sure the exact date when it was written but it's pushing 100 years ago. Growing up in a very rural area I knew what he refers to but I asked the group sitting in a very modern home on a misty lake if they knew what a "shock" is. Educated guesses approached it but no one knew corn shocks were once common in the fields as shocks of wheat were. I explained that I remember my father cutting the corn stalks after the ears had been harvested, and standing them in shocks until the field was cut and they could be taken to the barn.
They became "fodder", something else my city-bred contemporaries did not know -- food for cows and pigs in the winter as was hay. Nor did they have a picture of the corn's dried tassels of which Riley writes. Sometimes I think my memories contain a complete mechanical revolution. I have been working on a poem that says so. Maybe I'll post it tomorrow. For now here are the first two of the four stanzas of the poem.
When the Frost is on the Punkin
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.