It’s interesting the things you come across when you start rummaging around in some place; specifically, a building. You might find an item you had been looking for, lost now found. In some cases you locate something that is no longer needed and ends up with other castoffs in a landfill. Or, you stumble onto an object that conjures up memories.
Sometime ago I was in my garage/storage shed not looking for anything specific. Or was I? I can’t remember now. On the other hand, I probably felt it was time for an intervention, i.e. make some order out of chaos. In the process, I didn’t find an object that was lost or needed to be pitched. Rather, I found a sack of memories: a gunny sack to be exact.
And then there were more. Not scattered but folded and in a box as best I recall. Or sacks within a sack. Order amongst chaos.
Those sacks, empty of their original cargo, yet full of memories, allowed me to time travel back to my youth in Nebraska. The immediate image that came to mind was of the freight trucks that pulled up to the rear of Hugo Plumbing and Heating. Among the items to be offloaded were gunny sacks containing iron pipe fittings. The collection of fittings could be heavy, hence the need for a strong sack. If I showed up at the right time, I was allowed to help put the fittings in their designated bins. It was one of many rites of passage growing up in a family business.
My brother Jerry, an owner of the business, told me the fittings now come in bags made of woven plastic. I call it faux burlap.
As a kid I wasn’t interested in the facts as they related to gunny sacks, e.g. what they are made of and why they are called that. Now I am.
Gunny originates from the Sanskrit word “goni” which means bag or sack. The word was adapted by the British in the 1700s when India was colonized by England. Whether you are shipping pipe fittings or potatoes you want a sack made of strong plant fibers, e.g. jute or hemp which are woven into the fabric known as burlap or sack cloth.
The majority of the world’s jute is grown in India on the Ganges Delta due to the warm temperature, rain and high humidity that make up the climate. According to my research, China and Bangladesh are major maufacturers of burlap fabric.
In addition to sacks that are used for shipping products, burlap is also used in the nursery, construction, furniture and carpet industries, to name a few. It can also be used in craft projects and for decorating. The product is environmentally friendly, compared to the faux burlap that does not break down as readily.
Speaking of shipping, Glenn Dome, proprietor of Dome’s Nuts in Lima, told me that in the ‘40s and ‘50s products came in wood crates and barrels but now peanuts in the shell come in plastic mesh bags while other nuts are shipped in burlap bags.
My collection of bags, varying in size and coarseness of the fabric, were used to ship potatoes, cracked wheat, small red beans and fittings for playground equipment. I know this because of the, in some cases, colorful graphics on the bags. One potato bag has a rendering of a pile of said produce. The food products bags held 100 pounds net weight.
The smallest bag in my collection is all of 6-by-10 inches and according to the orange, green and black graphics contained 2 pounds of brown basmati rice. With its handles and zipper it might make a cute shabby chic handbag for a well-dressed woman.
Getting back to the memories of my youth. Our elementary school year ended with, among other things, a walk to Neligh Park for a day of food and fun. Part of the fun was the gunny sack races. Hop, hop, fall down; get up and head for the finish line, hell bent for leather against fellow competitors. Did I win, you ask? My memory isn’t that sharp!
What I’m curious about is whether gunny sack races are part of children’s activities anymore. One company website I saw touted their potato bags as “also great for gunny sack races.”
My father didn’t own a Santa Claus suit, but on Christmas Eve he found a way to make us believe there was a Santa Claus. It wasn’t until we became non-believers that we knew what he was up to. Dad would go to the shop and put some metal radiator fittings in a gunny sack and return home as Santa. Quickly walking past the windows, he would shake the bag to create a jingling bells sound that convinced us Santa was real.
We’d run to the windows to catch a glimpse, but the jolly old fellow was too fleet of foot.
I’m not the only one who has childhood memories of gunny sacks, both fun and work related. My wife, Karen, often talks about growing up on a farm in Arenac County, Mich., where they raised sugar beets, navy beans and corn. The children’s project was to raise pickles for spending money. When harvest time came the pickles were picked, loaded into gunny sacks and taken to the pickle station. One kind of green swapped for another. She didn’t say whether they used the gunny sacks to race each other home.
So there you have it folks: more info than you wanted to know about gunny sacks. Now that I’ve revisited my youth and am left holding the bag — of gunny sack memories, there is one other item I need to revisit. The garage is still in need of an intervention. Who knows what I’ll discover.