During a late afternoon in June, four-year-old Kylee wandered off into the verdant maze of a 150-acre cornfield. A hot wind rustled the stalks, and as darkness fell, the field resonated with the sound of green rippling waves.
Word of the disappearance quickly spread in the north Iowa community, and before long, more than 280 volunteers were assisting Kylee’s mother in her frantic search.
This type of outpouring occurs in various forms around the world, but in Iowa, it is an example of old fashioned “neighboring.” Friends and family would help round up stray steers, or a corps of men, women, and machines might gather to harvest crops for a sick neighbor.
Dad thinks that Iowa might be the only state where the word “neighbor” is used as a verb—“the Browns often neighbor with the Smiths.” He also has some insights on how it has altered as agriculture has evolved. “Self-propelled combines probably changed farm neighboring more than anything else. Used to be common that threshing grain would mean a gathering of twenty men, eight teams of horses, a separator and steam engine operator, water and coal haulers, spike pitchers, and a group of excellent cooks. Now a farmer in an air conditioned cab can do much the same.”
Families and neighbors used to socialize after harvests, including hay baling and corn picking. “From butchering to barn dances,” Dad recalls, “neighbors shared the work and the fun. If a brief rain delayed threshing, the men might play baseball and occasionally tip the oat shocks to dry. After a late afternoon meal, they could get back to work until past dark.”
Modernization has changed neighboring, but in many rural areas, folks still socialize at coffee shops, sale barns, and church or community activities. They also gather when a crisis occurs. Tornadoes flatten farms, fire sweeps through a horse barn, or a farmer gets killed working machinery in the field.
In the case involving Kylee, nearly six hours had passed, and desperation set in—some whispered about the den of wild coyotes in the area, and everyone worried about the extreme heat. The volunteers had been joined by a helicopter, a plane, and a search dog, but as midnight approached, it was a neighbor named Eric who heard Kylee call out during the last search round of the night. As reported in the Des Moines Sunday Register, “He saw a white T-shirt. He ran to the girl and lifted her up in the darkness, her dirty feet dangling under the midnight sky.”
With her daughter wrapped in her arms, Kylee’s mom finished the night still amazed that so many people had come out to help. But it has happened many times before, and it won’t be the last time community members gather to do some neighboring. by dan gogerty
*see the article, "Lost in the Cornfield," from the Des Moines Sunday Register by Mike Kilen, photos by Andrea Melendez
*see CAST blog, "It's What Farmers Do," regarding examples of communities coming together to help others.