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Mack Williams: The threshers

“Come ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home.”

I always think of that particular hymn as Thanksgiving approaches. I don’t hear it on the radio, as pop and Christmas reign there at this time of year. The tune comes from an annual storing away in my mind at church, the first twenty-some “storings” having taken place at Saint Paul’s Lutheran.

Everyone nowadays, is of course, familiar with migratory workers who travel around the country, being paid for harvesting fruit, tobacco, etc.

If you think “Now he’s going to write about immigration and Executive orders,” you think wrong.

I’m going to write about something which was a common sight in the early twentieth century, the sight of which I observed in the middle decade of that same century on its dwindling to extinction : “threshers.”

Threshers were kind of like migratory workers who brought the machines with them.

In Denton, the “Old Time Thresher’s Reunion” is held annually, but it seems to me that it”s more of a reunion of the machines the threshers used, rather than of the men themselves. There is some spillover in  definition, as “thresher” can also refer to the machine, i.e., “steam-driven” thresher.” It’s a good thing for history preservation that some men like to tinker with the old machines (just like those men who “tinker” at Spencer).

Although more of a “blue-collar” job, threshing was a noble, almost Biblical line of work, due to the passages and parables in the Bible comparing our lives to fields of wheat.

“First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear.”

That day in the 1950s, I got to see the threshers do their work at my Grandfather and Grandmother Williams’ house on the Sparta Road in North Wilkesboro. To the best of my memory, they had enough wheat and corn to require the thresher’s assistance.

The threshers were moving steadily through the field and then came inside for lunch. Grandmother Williams and Aunt Ruth provided the men with so many calories at mealtime, that despite their hard work, I bet there were a few leftover unused calories which were turned into fat.
Today, I see some people eating about the same amount of food at Biscuitville and Golden Corral as the threshers ate at that meal, but I imagine most of them don’t go out and work all day in the field afterwards (and it shows).
My grandmother and aunt fixed great serving dishes of fried chicken, string beans, potatoes, corn, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, biscuits (bigger and fluffier than those at Hardee’s), and rhubarb pies (rhubarb, something as Welsh as “Williams” ).
I have one especially special memory of that “feeding of the troops.” In addition to the wonderful food, it was a joyous social occasion! These “stout-hearted men” made much excited (and loud) conversation between mouth-fulls (some of it with mouths full and fraught with glottal danger). Being neither an introverted nor secretive lot, they let the Williamses join in on their back-and-forth banter.
The threshers were hard-working men, full of stories and conversation, truly enjoying their difficult labor, even making little boys want to be like them.
“All is safely gathered in, ere the Winter storms begin.”

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