It is getting close to that time of year, mid-July, when families make the pilgrimage to Door County for the annual cherry harvest, and that always brings to my mind the summer outing of 1957. I would have been 9 or 10 (depending on my birthday in early July) and my brother, Mike, was two years younger. We lived in Hilbert, a 10-tavern community north of Chilton in Calumet County. We also lived across the street from the Schultz girls’ farm where they tended a herd of Milking Shorthorns and integrated my brother and me into their daily chores.
It was a wonderful summer of haying in the old style with flat wagons, trailing hay loader, slings and break-time lemonade in the shade of a huge, old, lawn oak. The Schultz girls consisted of Ester, Liddy, Ruth and Irene. Irene tended the house and cooking while the other three ran the farm and hand-milked the cows twice a day. By the middle 1950s, the horse barn was empty except for the flock of bantams that resided there and walls hung with old leather harnesses. There were about 20 cows in the main barn that year and one big box stall for Pinky, their white, perhaps albino, bull. One of the cows was so tame that we could sit on her back while she was being milked. On the other hand, we were always warned to keep our hands, arms and legs away from Pinky who would often throw his head when feeding or perhaps feeling somewhat amorous. Pinky, they said, weighed around 2,000 pounds and even after 60 years of cogitation, I think that was probably close to the mark — he was huge with a pink nose and eyes that now reminds me of cherries in cream.
But it was cherries we were after and the Schultz girls invited Mike and me to ride along for the picking — or maybe to help with the picking and eating as only a couple of young boys can do. And so, on the appointed day, all six of us crammed into their 1953 Ford Fordor and headed for Sturgeon Bay and orchards north.
The picking was somewhat uneventful but plentiful with the exception of being careful not to crack a tooth on the pits. I don’t recall how many pounds we picked all together but it was a lot of little pails full, moving stepladders from tree to tree, climbing up and down, and many in our mouths. It was a warm day, as I recall, and we must have left early that morning, right after milking, because by early afternoon we were already on our way home with the cherries in the truck. And, of course, having eaten cherries all morning, no one got hungry for lunch until we were nearly back into Green Bay and Irene reminded us all that we needed to find a park or place for the picnic lunch she had packed.
Now, or then, following Highway 57 through Green Bay, Allouez or De Pere does not bring to mind any city park or rest area where we could have pulled off and had a picnic. There may be one, maybe even a couple, but we certainly didn’t find any in 1957 and had almost given up on lunch until Ruth suggested we pull into a cemetery (in De Pere, I think) because nobody would bother us there and they had some beer along for themselves for lunch. Not just beer for lunch, but Irene’s shaved ham sandwiches with homemade mayonnaise that still lingers on my tongue every time I think of it. What a treat! Mike and I had pop with our sandwiches and they had beer with theirs. They didn’t share the beer with us although in Hilbert that would not have been a sin back then. I had already tasted beer and I am sure Mike had too because in the good Germanic communities of Calumet County, that is what most people liked. But this was just a picnic with sandwiches and a can of pop or beer to wash it down. I also remember that in Hilbert, a six-pack and a bag of chips was often jokingly referred to as a seven-course meal — but I guess everyone has heard that one before.
So, there we were in the cemetery, cherries in the truck, ham sandwiches in our tummies, and another 40 miles back to evening chores. The empty cans were all tucked into the empty picnic basket and we tucked ourselves back into the Fordor before we laughed all the way back to Hilbert about our “picnic in the park.”
My brother and the Schultz girls are all gone now, the barns too, and only the stately old house remains except for some fine memories like haying, cherry picking, Pinky, sitting on the back of the cows and four ladies who opened their hearts and farm to us. As we know, it is the memories that remain even when the times change. Hilbert has grown too, but, ironically, the number of taverns or bars, or whatever you want to call them, has dwindled to five. And now, having neighbor kids and beer in the same proximity is likely to get you into a lot of hot water. Nonetheless, the cherries will be ready soon and Ruth, Irene, Ester, Liddy and Mike will all be crammed into the front seat of my pickup truck for another excursion into Door County.