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Stories from the Farm

"Old Man" Hempstead And The Seeds of Discontent

I was probably only four or five years old when Guy "Old Man" Hempstead gave me the scare of my life.  After watching all of his teeth fall out – right at our kitchen table -- while eating my mother's homemade raspberry jam, I didn't taste the stuff again until I was twelve and quite sure that my "adult" teeth were strong and secure.

When I was a child, Old Man Hempstead was a good many years older than ancient.  He lived about a mile and a half from our farm in a small, one-room house that seemed to defy gravity and every law of physics.  His shack had a hand pump for water, a pot belly stove, an outhouse, an iron-framed bed and no electricity – and he scoffed at the idea of upgrading to any of the modern conveniences.  By all standards, he was poor, or as my father once said, "He didn't have enough nickels for the buffalos to huddle together and stay warm on a winter's night."  (Of course, that was back when there were buffalos on nickels.)  I guess it was by the goodness and generosity of the kind people of Glenfield that he managed to keep body and soul together in a stiff wind.  During the summers of my youth, he was a permanent fixture at our home at "Fieldstone Farms."

Each morning before breakfast, my father and I would hop in the green Ford truck to go pick up Mr. Hempstead.  Dad would yell out the window of the truck, "Guy, I need you on the farm today," and "Old Man" Hempstead would grab his work gloves and grumble about "these young pups of farmers who couldn't make it through a day without his help."  All the way to the farm, he would complain about the weather and lecture my father on the folly of tractors and the merits of a good team of oxen.  Despite his carrying on, we knew that he appreciated the work, enjoyed my mother's good cooking, and was thankful for a "few coins for his pockets."

On the fateful morning that would change my eating habits for a good many years, we arrived back at the farm just as my mother was taking a batch of buttermilk biscuits from the oven.  I was sitting directly across from Mr. Hempstead and watched as he applied a thick spread of fresh raspberry jam to half a biscuit, all the while claiming that he loved my mother's raspberry jam more than anything in the whole world.  After about two bites, he muttered something about the seeds, and then there was cursing and contortions like I had never before seen or heard.  The next thing I saw was all his teeth -- with the gums still attached -- sitting beside his plate.  In an instant, I was out the back door and was spitting my biscuit and jam into the pig pen.  I had nightmares for weeks, and I didn't eat raspberry jam for at least seven years.  Of course, I didn't know anything about dentures, and I was too polite and afraid to ever mention it to my parents or "Old Man" Hempstead.

It is unfortunate that our fears often keep us from enjoying some of the best things in life.  For several decades now, homemade raspberry jam has been a staple on our breakfast table.  Every once in a while, however, I will bite down on a seed and instinctively check to be sure that I still have all my teeth.  So far, so good.  But of course, you never know what the future might hold. 
  



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