The mid ‘30s were certainly not pioneer days, but to a 6-year-old, it seemed pretty crude.
Dad plowed the crop fields, the first time I can remember, with a team of horses named Maude and Nellie with a one-row plow with him walking behind. Each night he took great care of it and shined it like a mirror. We spent a lot of time making silly, distorted faces in it before he covered it with grease.
No appliances, electricity or running water were in many homes. Lights were lamps filled with kerosene and wicks trimmed each day. The sooty glass shades were washed and dried, and reading was difficult. Bedtime was early. Several years later brought Aladdin lamps for light. They were large and heavy and had to be pumped up with a little air pump before they could be lit. The mantels were very fragile and had to be replaced often, but the light was much brighter.
Our bathroom was a cold, breezy, smelly, two-holer outside privy. Toilet paper was a luxury, and so “Monkey Wards” or Sears and Roebuck came to the rescue — the yellow pages going first. Catalogs were plentiful in those days, thank God.
We always seemed to live on dirt roads, and many times traveling was done after the roads froze. If you had Sunday guests for dinner, the first sprinkle of rain always sent the cars and guests scurrying to the nearest gravel road. Dad would then hook up a team of horses and wagon and bring the guests back, which later meant another trip back to their cars. You usually had to stand and hang on to the side of the wagon for balance the whole way. It was slow and bumpy transportation, but reliable.
Refrigeration was uncommon so we would just prepare what was in the garden or on hand, which meant dressing a chicken. Should company arrive unannounced, the fryer was caught, killed, dressed, fried and on the table by noon. Chickens were usually roaming around the house so to bribe them a little corn was thrown their direction. The unlucky one was caught with a long piece of wire with a hook on the end to grab a leg. Mom was the killer and already had a big tub of hot water on the stove to scald the feathers off and then dress it. Somehow, I was the lucky one to hold the head being severed with a huge butcher knife. The chicken was then let go to run around the yard til it dropped. That bloody ordeal was quickly erased at the dinner table an hour later.
Occasionally, a man would come around with a stud horse. Sometimes he walked or rode it. If were outside or near the barn, we were immediately sent to the house. Miraculously, several months later we were blessed with little colts, which we all loved dearly. Some things about the farm animals were just too mystifying. Why did we cut off the baby lambs’ tails and put rings in the little pigs’ noses and burn numbers on the baby calves?
Harvesting crops meant long days and hard work. Corn was picked by hand with shucking gloves that had a tiny metal hook near the thumb to help rip open the husk. The ears were thrown into a horse-drawn wagon with a high backboard then stored outside in a large airy corncrib to dry. Combining of oats was done by a huge threshing machine. The oats were cut, bundled, shocked and stacked upright to resemble little teepees until dry enough to thresh.
Threshers went from farm to farm to do the crop. Several neighbor ladies always came to help feed the dozen or so men at noon. The men were usually treated with a drink of some sort, tea, Kool-Aid, or lemonade in the middle of the hot afternoon.
Mom was caught once without anything to give them to drink and, to her, water was not the ticket. She searched the cupboards and pantry and — as a last resort — spied some Jell-O. “Oh well, let’s just try it, that will suffice” And so it went into the thermos plus a chunk of ice from the icebox, and on to the men in the field. The spigot was turned on and out came nothing. It was the joke of the day and brought a good laugh saying she had forgotten the spoons.
All the men washed up outside at the pump before dinner with well water that the sun had warmed in a wooden tub.
Hay was put up in the barn with a tool that resembled huge ice tongs. Various kinds of animal feed were cut and dried then pitchforked onto a large hay rack. The load was pulled up in the haymow through a large door at the top of the barn. The tongs grabbed onto a bit of hay and were carried by a rope and pulley pulled by a horse to the top. The huge door at the top of the barn was open and the farmer tripped the pulley to drop the hay into place. It had to be very dry because it could start a fire if too green.
Men worked long and hard in those days, from sun up to sun down and indeed, it was rightfully called a “farmer’s tan.”