JUNK FOOD: Night of the Harvest

September 2021

Driving past farms this time of year yields views of tractors creeping through fields, and threshers spewing grain into attendant hoppers. It is satisfying to see the farmers actively reaping the benefits of their labor, but there is a seasonal finality (jumbo shrimp, anyone?) that always makes me a little sad. A soundtrack as nostalgic as my sentimentalism plays in my head: “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves. We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” I can hear the tinny organ and reedy voices of earnest folks, and can picture gingham blankets and a cornucopia of victuals—unfiltered Americana—but why does it make me sad?

a barn and a shed reflected in a river; Night of the Harvest

I study my hands as I often do when deep in thought and consider the index finger of my right hand, which features a ¾-inch tattoo of an arrow. I got this tattoo on a whim while out of town (sorry, Mom ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and settled on the arrow only after talking myself out of LOVE/HATE across my knuckles. I am a confident woman, but I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life imitating Robert Mitchum.

man with LOVE tattooed on fingers; Robert Mitchum in Night of the Harvest

Ding! The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton’s 1955 spooky sad Southern gothic “nightmarish Mother Goose tale” (Laughton’s words) continues to haunt me, it seems. I watched the movie when I was very young and the film’s imagery follows me, thrills me still. The gist of the story is, a menacing criminal (Mitchum) poses as a preacher to get close to a widow and her children because his former cellmate had stashed $10,000 in the daughter’s doll. It is very scary and beautifully surreal, with a soundtrack that riffs on and transforms hymns and children’s songs.

smiling children's faces against a starry backdrop; Night of the Harvest

The strains of the otherwise comforting spirituals linger under Mitchum’s menace, giving them an eerie, sinister feel which, apparently, still affects me. I see the farmers Bringing in the sheaves, Bringing in the sheaves and I smile while a chill runs down my spine. A LOVE/HATE relationship with seasonal finality, and the attendant memories of honest folks’ generosity being perverted.

(Support local farms. Decry manipulation. Eat your veggies.)