On the Farm: Free Time

In previous blogs I talked about my chores and the field work.  But I hope I didn’t give the idea that I was working all the time. The chores were only in the morning and evening, and the field work was mainly during the harvest season. And even then, my dad didn’t always give us jobs to do. Sometimes he got so busy plowing or whatever, that he sort of forgot to give us jobs. So, we just ran off somewhere. And there was plenty of things to do. In fact, my mom didn’t mind at all that we were out playing. She just wanted us home for supper. And if we weren’t home at supper time, believe me she had a loud voice and she would call us home by name for supper—at the top of her lungs.

I think the main fun thing I remember doing is exploring, sometimes by myself and sometimes with my brother Mark. My sister was more of a bookworm and I think she preferred just reading, even if it was in the house. I liked walking along the creek that ran in a large circle around the farm. Sometimes we would see frogs and we would try to spear them with a sharp stick we made. It never bothered us that we were killing them and reducing their population.  We were like fierce hunters.

Some days, when we knew that we had a few hours to kill before we had to be home for supper, we would go deep into the woods until we came to a great river. We didn’t know what river it was, but we knew it wasn’t the creek. It was too wide. I remember the imposing sound of the water. I just loved standing by its banks and feeling its strength and majesty. It gave me the shivers! Another time we encountered a few red-haired cows with long horns. And they were mean looking, so we ran out of there!

Back behind the grainery, which was not too far from the house, there were two old junk cars. One of them was a light cream color with lots of chrome on it. The other car was clearly a Ford model T, all black. We would often see rats crawling in and around the cars…cool! I remember one time we were there with our dog Brownie, and he spotted a squirrel under the cars. I’ll never forget what happened. When the squirrel tried to run away, out from under the car, Brownie, as quick as a flash, caught him between his teeth, and he was dead instantly. I couldn’t be more proud of him. What a great dog. And he was fast. One time we clocked him as he ran along side of our car. I think he got up to about 40 miles per hour!

I don’t know where I got it from, but it seems like I was always doing things to try to prove and challenge my bravery and strength—me more than my brother. Besides spearing frogs, I remember more than once trying to ride our buck sheep. It was kind of silly.

I also liked wrestling with my brother Mark. I liked it mostly, I think, because I knew I would win. Mark didn’t seem to care. I guess he just liked being with me. Now that I think back on it, he had a better spirit than me, a very sweet spirit. All I cared about was winning, being number one, being better than him. That selfish attitude has been with me for years, and now I regret it. I should have treated my brother better and now it’s too late.

On the Farm: The Chores

This isn’t me, but that ‘s how I remember it. I had a pail just like that, and a stool like that. But I never had a hat like that!

Farm chores consist of those daily duties that just have to be done, like milking the cows, feeding the animals and gathering the eggs. In our farm, my dad took charge of all the duties, but he liked to keep us kids busy too. His idea was that the whole family should work the farm. We did have some hired help from time to time, but it seemed like us kids did most of the work.

As I mentioned previously, there were two periods of time when I lived at the Montevideo farm: when I  was about 7 and 8, and then again when I was about 11 and 12. When I was at the younger age I don’t think I did a lot with the animals—although I’m sure I wanted to. I was more restricted to the menial, mindless tasks like weeding the garden and hauling water from the well to the house. I hated that job! It was a long way to go and the water buckets were so heavy. I don’t know why I was always stuck with that job. I guess because there was no one else.

When I was at the older age, I filled in much more with the chores. My sister, two years older, helped out some too, and so did my younger brother. The chore I liked the most was milking the cows, which had to be done twice a day: in the early morning and again in the evening at about 6. Most of the milking was done by hand; I think we did have one milk machine. My dad milked most of the cows, but I did my share of the milking too—for every three cows he milked, I probably milked one; not bad for a kid. We had about 30 cows to milk, so it took us a while. And it was a real workout, especially for your fingers and forearms.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened during the school months. Did us kids help out with the chores before and after school? Or maybe that’s when we had hired-help, or maybe mom filled in. Some things, like school were just a blur. Other things I do remember quite vividly.

Yea, I remember the dirty, stinky jobs like cleaning the gutters in the barn. That job definitely had to be done every day after the cows went out to pasture, and sometime even while they remained in the barn—when it was too cold to let them go out. We would scoop out the manure with a flat shovel into a wheel barrow, and then wheel it out the barn door. And that took some strength and skill.  You had to steer it on these planks all the way to the end of the manure pile, and then dump it. And if you would go off the plank—that usually didn’t happen—it would be a disaster and a mess! Can you imagine sinking hip deep in manure, while struggling to keep the wheel barrow afloat?

Sometimes I was charged with bringing the cows home from the pasture. Usually, they would come in by themselves; but sometimes, for some reason, they just didn’t show up. So my dad would say, go find those cows!

I didn’t always like all the walking, but, at the same time it was sort of fun and adventurous: walking across the creek, up the hill and through the trees, all the while following the cow paths. If you stayed on the cow paths you would usually find the cows. Often, I would run right into them, walking slowly home. Yea, they knew their way home. They were just slow and lazy in coming…so I would hurry them along by gently swatting them with a stick.

I would also be tasked with herding the sheep, and basically just watching them. If they would get into the alfalfa fields, that’s bad news because they can get bloated and die—and that happed a couple times. And there were also cases when wild dogs or coyotes would attack and kill the lambs. All kinds of things can happen. Sheep don’t have a lot of good sense, and if one gets in trouble, other will follow. So, we had to watch them, especially when we let them roam around.

I can’t remember too much about feeding the animal; but that is, of course, the most important chore which my dad handled—but I know I help out.

Here’s one thing I vividly remember doing in the fall and winter months: I helped dad keep coal and wood in our furnace. It was a large furnace located in the basement. And since it was the only source of heat available for our two-story house, it was important that we kept it going constantly. My dad would get these old boards—I’m not sure where he got them—and we would break them up by resting them against a wall or something, and then jumping on them until they broke. And he would also chop down small trees with an ax; he also let me use the ax. Great fun! I didn’t mind the work at all. Using the ax was worth all the callouses.

When it would get especially cold, we had to work extra hard to keep the furnace going. But apparently, there are things you are not supposed to do—like overload the furnace. I guess we managed not to do that, but I heard from my dad years after we moved away, that the next resident had overloaded the furnace and the house burnt down! I never heard whether everyone got out alive or not.