Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More Chores and Wash Day

Another task that I dearly hated comes to mind. Before I was old enough to milk cows or was assigned to milking anyway. My guess is that there was still enough older boys around to do the milking . I used to have to carry in corn cobs and wood to keep the old wood burning kitchen range going the next day. If I couldn’t find enough small wood , about a three inch in diameter was the max you could use, then I would have to try and split some with an axe. Grandpa used to say that I was too light in the poop to swing an axe. That wood and cob box had to be full before you quit too or back you went until it was full. On Monday, washday, the water had to be pumped by hand carried into the house in three gallon buckets poured in the boiler on top of the stove and heated. It was then carried out to the back porch where it was poured into an old hand cranked worn out washing machine, bought seconded of course, into which mom slivered up some of her home made soap, some times she just used the wash board. Sometimes she could get one of us boys to crank it but I think most of the time she did the cranking herself. You was supposed to crank it so many minutes or until you got tired of cranking I think. The clothes were then run threw and old hand cranked ringer into a tub of rinse water, which got pretty sudsy before all of the clothes were washed, from there out to the old clothes line. Getting clothes dry in the winter always turned into a quite a task. First they were hung on the clothes line until they were frozen stiff then brought inside and hung all over the house. We didn’t need a humidifier that was for sure. Mom also always baked bread on Monday also. While the wash water was heating she could use the heat that was accumulating in the oven to bake her bread. So energy conservation isn’t some thing new. It was going on way back then.
   In the fall of the year we always butchered three or four hogs. They always waited until the weather cooled because of no refrigeration. Then came the task of curing the hams and shoulders and preparing the meat to keep it from spoiling. The hams and shoulders used to be done by what was called sugar cured which was brown sugar, salt, red pepper, and salt peter and that is all of the ingredients that I remember. After I got big enough to help mom prepare the meat they had come up with a cure I think they called smoked salt cure. As I remember we hand rubbed that smoked salt mixture into the hams then coated them with a thick covering of it then wrapped them in brown paper put them in a flour sack and hung them in the old cellar. That old cellar was really a scary place the outside entrance was closed up to keep the cold north wind from blowing under the house so the only access to it was through a trap door in the closet in the downstairs bedroom. There was no ladder to get down there . You had to step on a ledge and then let yourself down hanging on to the floor or whatever you could get a hold of. It was several years before I was tall enough to get down there by myself, you also had to take a kerosene lantern down with you because it was pitch black down there. In later years it didn’t look nearly as scary to me, matter of fact it wasn’t scary at all. Also the side meat was done the same way making it into bacon. That meat would keep until next year. Most of it was wolfed down by us hungry guys long before it had a chance to spoil. Some of the meat was canned in mason fruit jars, some made into sausage. The fat was rendered into lard. That meant boiling the fat until it turned into liquid then straining it and you then had all liquid which was then let cool and it become semi solid and that was lard. That which was strained off skin etc and other fat that wasn’t used for lard was put in a big iron kettle and a fire built under it with some Lewis Lye added and boiled real good. It was then left to cool down for a day or so and a scum about three inches thick formed on top. That was the laundry and dish soap. It had to be cut into hunks and let dry for several days before it was useable. I guess you might say that it had to be aged.
   Mom used to go to Marshalltown, one of the boys had to take her she didn’t drive, usually in August before school started and get each one of us school age boys two new pair of bib overalls, two blue work shirts, two pair of socks and a pair of shoes. Under wear I don’t remember. One outfit we wore all week while the other outfit was in for laundry. The new clothes were to wear to school and as soon as we got home from school we had to change into our work clothes which were last years school clothes. And believe you me by the time the year was up those clothes were nothing but seams, patches and holes. By the time school was out our shoes were pretty well shot or we had outgrown them or both so we had to go barefoot. And to this day I don’t like to go barefooted. My dress clothes were all hand me downs like knee pants and black socks with holes in them. Man did I ever hate those hand me down clothes and being the next to the youngest that is all I ever got. Fortunately we never needed our dress up clothes very often because we rarely went any where. There were very few hand me down work clothes because they were all pretty much used up by the original wearer. As we got old enough to work out as day labor we had our own money to buy some fairly decent clothes. I stayed out of school for two weeks and worked in order to buy my graduation suit. I already had missed the first two weeks of school. Because I was in North Dakota working in the harvest fields. I guess I probably didn’t get very good grades and that may be why I’m not so bright. I did have passing grades and got a signed High School Diploma. Earl Battles went to Des Moines and bought a 1927 Pontiac, this is in 1937, so the car would be ten years old, and he and his brother Jiggs and I took off for North Dakota in it sharing the expenses. We only drove it thirty miles an hour, that was to keep the old engine from flying apart, and most of the roads were gravel. We drove day and night and slept in the car. Bought food in the grocery stores and ate in the car. We arrived a couple days later in, I don’t remember how long it took, Langdon North Dakota got jobs harvesting wheat. We got the humongus sum of  thirty five cents an hour and our room and board and the room was an old grainery and we slept on the floor. The thirty five cents an hour was for belt time only, which meant that we only got paid when the threshing machine was running. That meant that we had to get up in the morning feed and water our horses curry and harness them hitch them up to a hay rack and drive to the field, which was sometimes three or four miles.  Load up a load of wheat bundles and start pitching them into the threshing machine before our pay started. Then at night after the machine shut down we had to drive them back home unhitch and unharness them. So there was about four hours a day that we worked for nothing. I guess that you wouldn’t call that a picnic but it was still more money than we were used to making. Anyway school had started when I got back home and the school superintendent talked me into going back to school without any makeup work. So that is a brief sketch of my life in the harvest  fields of North Dakota. My opinion is that the best thing that I can say about the good old days is that I am glad they are gone.

To continue reading click here.  Part 6 - Life After High School

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