Down on the farm. The first part.

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Family, Memories
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

While I was growing up, my grandparents lived on a farm in Nebraska, about an hour from our house in Omaha.   My grandfather told my father when he was growing up, not to be a farmer because it was too hard and, for that or for some other reason, my dad became an accountant.  But we went to the farm to visit regularly and as a child, it was great.  We got all the fun of the farm without the work.  We didn’t have to go out in the cold to take care of the animals or in the rain to do anything.  There were cows, chickens and sheep and, for a time, pigs.    Some of the sheep as lambs had to be bottle-raised by Grandma and even when they got older, when she came out, they would crowd around her.  The chickens were Bantams (Bantys, we called them) and their eggs were smaller than regular eggs, brown and warm-looking.

Grandpa milked the cows—by hand.  While he was milking, the cats would sit nearby, waiting.  Periodically he would shoot milk towards a cat sitting up on its hind feet. The cat would lap everything that didn’t go directly in its mouth from its milk face.  When our girls were younger, we visited Lake Farm Park,, where everyone had a chance to try milking a cow.  It’s a lot harder than Grandpa made it look.

The hay bales were kept up in the hay mow and tossed down when needed.  We were too small to help with bales but we could go up and play on the bales.  To get the bales into the hay mow, they were put on a bale conveyor that took them up to the mow where someone we couldn’t see arranged them.  Grandpa’s hay was put into rectangular bales.  Now there are round ones and some even have covers.  When I take road trips, I love to look at the different kinds of bales and stacks of bales.  Sometimes there are hundreds of bales, stretching as far as you can see, the blessings of plenty and income, animals fed all winter, or both.

Did you ever notice that when you look back on things that happened when you were little, things that sounded or seemed normal then, weren’t necessarily so, just the way that the house you grew up in probably wasn’t anywhere near as large as you remember it being?  It was the same for me.  After my grandparents were dead and we went back to the farm, the house had mysteriously shrunk, as if it had taken a drink from the bottle labeled “DRINK ME” in Alice in Wonderland.  My grandparents lived near Surprise, Nebraska and to get there, we had to drive through Wahoo, Nebraska.  We also passed by David City.  Those names sounded completely normal to me then but now, if I mention them to someone, I think how funny they probably sound.  My brother and I used to sometimes take the bus on our own to visit and my grandparents would get us in David City.  Hard to imagine children the ages we were then taking the bus anywhere on their own now.  We had our little suitcases and thought it all a great adventure, which it was.  Mom and Dad would come out on Sunday after church, stay until evening and then we’d drive back to Omaha.  Dad worked for the same company his entire working career and after he started in Omaha, after a stint in Greenland, he had to work a half day on Saturday morning, every single Saturday morning of his working life.  That meant that as a family, we went to the farm after church, arriving for Sunday dinner and staying until evening.

Among the farmers and their wives, there were two women named Emma and two named Frieda.  They were all married and to differentiate, one Emma was referred to by everyone as Hank’s Emma.  Frieda was known as Pete’s Frieda.  I don’t recall to whom the other two were attached, but these two have stuck in my mind all these years.  I don’t even know if I ever met them or knew what they looked like, but I remembered those names and like Surprise, Wahoo and David City, they sounded completely normal to me at the time.  I suppose now women would resent being called something that sounded like they belonged to their husbands, but it was simply an easy way to tell them apart and I doubt they even thought about it.

I loved driving the tractor.  It wasn’t one of the big, modern tractors you see know.  It was a small John Deere.  Of course, I was too small to reach the pedals, so Grandpa worked the pedals while I drove.  His tractor was just that—a tractor.  No cab, no air conditioning, no radio, no iPod.  When we were plowing and the wind was blowing our way, we got dirty.  When it was hot, so were we.  When I plowed, I had to focus on something at the end of the field and steer towards it so the tractor would go straight.  I use the same technique now when mowing the lawn.

Irrigation at that time wasn’t by the pivots you see now, the kind that from the sky look as though aliens have landed and watered crops in perfect circles.  Grandpa had irrigation pipe and each summer, the pipes had to be put together before the water could be pumped through them.  The water was ice cold and felt wonderful in the Nebraska heat.

A treat for us was being able to watch television.  We didn’t have a TV until I was in high school (not that we missed it because we were too busy playing, working and reading) so when we went to my grandparents’, we enjoyed watching a bit of television.  I remember watching “Lassie”, “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Gunsmoke”, “Checkmate” and “Ed Sullivan.”  I remember seeing the Beatles for the first time.  The hair that looked so long then, now looks amazingly short when I see a repeat of the program.  At the end of each episode of “Lassie”, Lassie sat with her paw in the air as the credits rolled.  Good stuff.

Grandma was an excellent cook.  For awhile, she still cooked at least some of the time on a cook stove, which now resides in my brother’s house.  The cook stove was in the pantry and the other, more modern stove, in the kitchen.  Grandma made the most amazing cinnamon rolls!  And in the manner of grandmas everywhere, when she fixed a meal, she wanted us to eat.  If we didn’t eat, she felt we didn’t like the food.  And not liking her food was akin to not liking Grandma.  That was great for me because during grade school, high school and college, I could eat as much as any football player while staying skinny and wiry.  Grandma had a special bowl, crystal with a gold rim and little feet, which she always used for olives.  The olives were the green, pimento-stuffed olives and we loved them.  I liked taking the pimentos out and eating them first.  Now I prefer other types of olives but then we loved these. Grandma often got a bit annoyed because so many of them never made it from the kitchen to the table.

What a wonderful experience!  With so many small family farms gone and the face of farming often so radically changed, I’m thankful every day for the chance we had to be part of our own family farm.  Our family still owns the farm, although “the place”, as it was called, was sold and the buildings are probably either derelict or gone.  But the land is still there being farmed.  I’m encouraged, though, when I go to the farmers market to see how many young people are heading back to the land and its difficult but healthy way of living, healthy both for them as people and for us as a country.

  1. 2b14u says:

    My dad was in Greenland too, also I remember the green olives in the very same way as you do. So many memories. My Granny sometimes had a gallon of sulfer water drawn from a nearby spring. It stunk and it tasted nasty, but we always had to have a sip of the stuff.

    • Thankfully the water on the farm was good but I’ve been places that have the sulfer-y water or the stuff with so much iron that it turns the sinks red, and they’re not so good to drink. However, in places like Bath, England, people made the springs a destination and thought the waters were good for them. Who knows if they were but perhaps the principle of “If it tastes bad, it must be good for you”, was believed.

  2. […] my brother and I enjoyed many good times.  I talked about some of my memories in a previous post,  Here are some more […]

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