While in Wyoming, my dad and I got to talking about the farm where my dad grew up and my brother and I enjoyed many good times. I talked about some of my memories in a previous post, http://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/down-on-the-farm-the-first-part/. Here are some more memories.
My grandmother was a short, petite, pretty woman whose hair mysteriously stayed black until she died. She fought a life-long battle to keep everything “farm” outside the fenced-in yard and succeeded admirably. Not that the farm was a mess by any means. But inside the fence, the lawn was mowed, things were neat and clean, civilization reigned. The house had an enclosed back porch and just outside the door was a bell. When it was time to eat, Grandma rang the bell and everyone came, washed up, and sat down to her wonderful food. When we arrived for a visit, we would park the car, come around the back and go in, waiting on the porch to listen. Quite often, both Grandma and Grandpa were sleeping, Grandpa making whistling noises as he lay on the couch, while the loud snoring coming from the bedroom emanated from my dainty Grandma, although she steadfastly denied that she snored. We stood on the porch laughed silently, listening to what sounded like a lion or sometimes two.
The house also had a cellar. It was filled with things Grandma had canned and could serve as a storm shelter if a tornado was spotted which, in Nebraska, wasn’t uncommon. My memories, however, are of not wanting to go down into the damp darkness where daddy-longlegs lived and other bugs and spiders were possible. I was too young to appreciate all the work she put in to putting up food to last the winter from their large garden. I only wanted to avoid the dark and the spiders.
At one time, there was a pig pen in the far back of the yard and I remember my dad telling us that if you fell when feeding the pigs, one of the grown pigs might attack you. There were stories (true) of people who’d been killed a/o eaten by pigs. Mostly, though, the pigs just tried to keep cool by whatever means possible and ate anything dumped in their food trough.
There was always a dog, but it wasn’t a pet; it was a working dog. I remember Carlo, a dog so large we rode on him when we were very small, although probably not very far. Sadie was the last dog I recall, long-haired and loving. The dogs herded the cattle and went after rats when they could get them, but often Grandpa would have to flood the rats out of their holes and kill them himself. Sometimes at night, I’d waken to hear the dog barking repeatedly, the signal that he or she had treed a raccoon. Raccoons may look cute, but they will eat corn and other things farmers don’t want them to have and if they get into an enclosed space, they can wreck everything in the area. I’d then hear Grandpa get up and get his gun. A short time later, there would be a shot and he and the dog would come back, Grandpa carrying the dead raccoon.
Grandpa smoked a pipe and died early of lung cancer. He looked tall to me, although when he got older, he seemed to shrink. The top of his head where there was no hair, was white from wearing his cap all the time. His hand were very brown but his arms, almost always covered by long sleeves, were also very white. Farmer’s tan. He was quiet and had a good but dry sense of humor. He was wiry but tough. My dad tells a story of the two of them going into town one day and my grandpa telling someone he could jump up and kick the light hanging from the ceiling of the store. He wasn’t called on it and later admitted to my dad that there was no way he could have done it. The fact that the storekeeper believed him says a lot. One day we were out near an electric fence and he told me to grab hold of it. I did and got zapped. Since I had tennis shoes with rubber soles, it wasn’t terrible but it was, literally, quite a shock. He felt bad, but still thought it funny. Mostly, though, we enjoyed helping him with whatever we could.
Besides a dog, there were also working cats. Their job was to kill any mice in the area. When they had kittens, we like to tie a sting around a corn cob and pull it. The kittens would caper around, pouncing on the corn cob with abandon. The older cats would sit aloof for a bit, but soon we would see them stalking the corn cob, pushing the kittens out of the way to have their own fun. They got down-and-kitty-like when chasing that cob.
Grandpa had a bale trailer to haul hay bales. It was a simple flat, wooden platform with a long metal piece at one end that attached to the back of the tractor, and two wheels right in the middle. When not in use, the end with the attachment, being heavier, would be on the ground. My brother and I would run from end to end to try to keep either end from touching the ground. Sometimes it worked; sometimes one end would bang on the ground. But we had a great time trying to balance it.
When we stayed for the weekend, or longer, we slept upstairs. The upstairs was unheated and reached by steep steps. At the top of the stairs was a room filled with all sorts of toys that are now antiques but were more fun than our regular toys just because they weren’t our regular toys. Off of one bedroom, through a small door, was a storage room with a slanted ceiling, the cornucopia of things my grandparents had stored there making exploring a treat. But at night in the summer, it was hot and in the winter, we curled up under a pile of blankets and got downstairs quickly in the morning into the kitchen, the warmest room of the house and dove into Grandma’s cinnamon rolls
My grandparents’ telephone was on a party line. The number of rings indicted who was being called. Once the recipient of the call picked up, other people also picked up to listen in. As each additional person picked up a phone, the sound level got less and less. Needless to say, no important personal business was conducted from home, unless you didn’t care who else knew about it. When my grandparents wanted to talk to my dad about anything important, they drove into town and used a pay phone. We had a party line in our first house, too. We only had to share with one other family, but my grandparents shared with quite a few. It’s easy to forget in an age of instant access, that not only did you once have to share a line, but at one time, you had to use an operator for all calls. My grandparents didn’t have an operator, but they dialed calls from a rotary dial phone on the wall. How convenient now to have cell phones anywhere you go on the farm! The times have certainly changed. I wonder what my grandparents would have thought of the internet.