Seedcorn Caps

Seedcorn Caps

Twenty-nine farmers helped harvest Dad’s soybeans three months after his death in 1980. Forty years ago. Ten women brought food and helped in the kitchen. Three also sent food. 

Back then, men didn’t wear their caps indoors, not even in a cafe.

When I was a girl on the farm, Dad and Uncle Bill wore engineer-type caps, striped like their Big Smith overalls. More modern farmers began to wear seedcorn caps, and jeans instead of bibs. 

With shirtsleeves rolled to his elbow, Dad wore overalls because there were handy compartments in the bib for his pocketwatch and a DeKalb bullet pencil, but before long he was wearing seedcorn caps, like the rest. 

When my son was small he didn’t like wearing a cap, even when the Cubmaster encouraged it, not even when other suburban Cub Scouts wore them, announcing whether they were Wolves or Bears or Webelos.

No, Dan waited until high school. He began by wearing his cap backwards. He wore it everywhere, except in the shower and when he slept. It announced even from a distance that there was a high schooler.

Back in the day, it wasn’t polite to wear a cap indoors. But with regular packs of tall, enthusiastic cap-wearing boys invading the house to plunder the refrigerator, well a mother was reluctant to enforce an unwritten rule about headgear. 

Well, okay, it’s a temporary thing, sort of a high school ritual. He’ll outgrow it.

Not exactly.

When Dan left for college, everyone wore them there too. The only difference was that the college kids wore theirs with the bills forward. 

I asked why college kids wore caps, since they’d likely be mistaken for highschoolers.

“Bad hair days.”

“Boys have bad hair days?”

“Only on days they don’t have time to shower before class.”


When he was home for a weekend, my only firm request was that he not wear the cap at the table when his grandma was there for  dinner. “She’d consider it disrespectful.”

“What’s it got to do with respect? Mom, it’s only a cap.”

Well, he arrived at the dinner table capless, and other social graces also seemed to come back to him.

His senior year, the upperclassmen began leaving their heads uncapped. Maybe they’d heard the rumor that regular cap-wearing can cause early baldness. Maybe they were just leaving a fad behind. Or perhaps they were getting serious about job hunting.

The fall after Dad died, those twenty-nine seedcorn-cap-wearing farmers gathered to harvest his crops. Uncles Bill, John, and Sam, several cousins. Neighbors Larree, Walter, Fred. Lee, Dwayne, Kenneth, Robert, Dale, Steve, Orville, Carroll, Richard. 

My sister Gloria and I were at Mom’s farmhouse early to help her get ready, to do one of our childhood chores when having “men for dinner” of making sure the sink in the utility room was clean, that there were plenty of towels. There was plenty of help in the kitchen to stir the gravy, mash the potatoes, slice the desserts.

As the men parked pickups in the farmyard and sauntered toward the garage, Gloria and I went out to thank them and to direct them through the garage to wash up. Men in overalls and jeans took off their caps, giving us a nod and maybe a comment about Dad.

After they’d all gone in, there was Mom’s car, dotted with dusty caps–red, green, brown, navy. They rested on the trunk and the roof.

Gloria and I looked at each other. For several minutes we couldn’t talk, sniffling and wiping tears.

She slipped out later to take a picture of those caps politely parked there, symbolizing the caring of country neighbors. 


  1. I miss the days you described in your post. Days when men habitually followed the practice of not wearing a cap or hat indoors. The lids came off as the men came through the door and didn’t go back on until they were outside again. And most certainly never at the table! It was all about proper manners, and one could tell the upbringing of someone by whether they abided by or ignored that rule. Thanks for the reminder of more courteous days!

  2. Oh, Joy. You made me smile remembering my Grandpa Brown’s engineer-style overalls with the grey stripes. I remember how thick and stiff they were, even as worn as they were. He was a farmer, among other things. And yes, a cap usually was involved, if he wasn’t wearing a draw cowboy hat. Fond memories.

  3. I’m sure even after 40 years the absence is keenly felt. You’ve described a wonderful community response to loss.

    I do have to wonder about the story behind the “Beware of kittens” sign, though.🙂 Were Iowans in the habit of putting kittens in people’s unlocked cars like with zucchini these days?

  4. that is such a nice piece…I just found it and shared it with Dwight who grew up in such a neighborhood in southern Iowa… Truly symbolizes respect to the life of a fellow farmer.

  5. P.S. to my other comment… looking at the list of names, I probably knew a lot of those men if their last name was tacked on…

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