Barbara’s childhood on the farm

Here’s a chapter from Barbara’s book, about her life on the farm.

“There is nothing better for a person than to enjoy his work” Ecclesiastes 3:22

 The Swinging Bridge. A footbridge high above Pequea Creek provided a shortcut to Uncle John’s farm. We also used that bridge to go visit our grandparents who lived with Uncle John. Narrow boards hung on two cables, with two more cables for handgrips, but no sides. It was scary going across that bridge, especially if a brother or sister came behind and started jumping to make the bridge swing and seesaw up and down.

Grandpa. Grandpa Jacob often came over to our house to visit. I remember him sitting by the wood stove in our kitchen, holding us on his knee and telling us stories. Sometimes he would fall asleep. When he woke up, he would say, “I don’t think God meant for us to sleep all at one time.” He would rev up his car loud and fast when he would leave. We enjoyed his visits.

Darning Socks. My mother darned socks all the time, and she taught me how to do it before I started first grade. “Darning” involved sewing a criss-cross stitch over the holes. Later she said that I darned socks better than she did. I do not remember when I stopped, and I don’t think I would have patience to do it now. We must be rich now, because we follow the advice of my brother-in-law, Lawrence, who discards his old socks. He says, “I look at those holey socks and say, ‘those darn socks,’ and then throw them away.”

Driving Tractor. Working on the farm was no hardship, because I took pride in the jobs we had to do. I especially enjoyed driving tractor for the farm work in the fields. I preferred work in the barn or fields to housework. Many times my mother would say, “If you girls want to do the milking, I will do the work in the house.” Sometimes I wonder where we learned to cook, bake, and clean.

Hoeing Corn. Daddy and all of us children would head out to the fields early in the morning to hoe the weeds in the cornfields. It was a tiresome, hot job. In later years we abandoned the hoes and sprayed the weeds instead.

Chickens and Eggs. We had laying hens that gave us enough eggs to collect and sell. Sometimes the hens would peck our hands as we reached into the nest for the eggs, and occasionally we had a controlling rooster who would come after us. Just the thought of going in there chilled my blood. We kept the eggs in the “arch,” a room below our cellar with a brick-arched ceiling, where we cleaned them with a type of sandpaper, graded them according to size and weight, and put them in crates.

Besides the laying hens, we raised our own broilers to sell for meat. Do you know how to “dress” a chicken? When we wanted chicken for a meal we would catch it, take it to the chopping block, hold its neck between two nails in the wooden block, and chop off its head with an axe, whereupon the bird would flop around until it finally lay motionless. Then we would immediately dip the chicken in a bucket of boiling water to soften the feathers, making them easier to pull out. Afterwards we would singe the tiny hairs off using a flaming newspaper. I rarely cleaned out the insides myself. I remember how Mother carefully removed the liver and gizzard so as not to break the gall bag.

Rat Raids. Where on earth did all those rats come from? The rats would hide under the chicken houses. Then at night when the chickens were on the roosts, they would sneak up into the houses and eat the chicken food. So we used to plan rat raids. We sighted all the rat exit holes ahead of time. Then on a designated night after the rats entered, the men and boys, and sometimes even us girls, would sneak in and plug the holes. We tied our pant legs shut so the rats would not crawl up our legs. At the word “charge” we all ran into the chicken houses, turned on the lights, and, crash, bang, we clubbed as many rats as possible. One time my sister Verna climbed up on the roost, slipped, and ripped a deep gash in her leg above the knee. I nearly fainted at the sight. After the raids we would have many baskets of dead rats.

Learning to Drive. I drove tractor a lot but had never driven a truck or a car. Mary Myers, a classmate, was staying with us one year during high school. She and I needed to deliver water to the chicken houses out in the field below the barn in the pick up-truck, but no one was available to tell us how to drive it. We put several old milk cans on the back of the truck and filled them with water. Starting the engine was easy enough, but we couldn’t figure out how to put it into gear, work the clutch, and take off without hitting fences or gates. We decided it would be easier to push the truck to get us moving. That was fine going downhill to the field, but coming back uphill was a different matter. After experimenting quite a long time, we hit a gear that got us moving. What a hilarious time it was for both of us; our laughter shook the whole truck! That was how, before I was of driving age, I learned to drive.

Milking Cows. We had about thirty milk cows, plus heifers (“adolescent” cows) and calves. In the early years we milked the cows by hand, sitting on a three-legged stool with a bucket between our legs—good hand exercise. Then the day came when we all learned how to use the new milking machines. We had to get up at five a.m. to help milk. If it was summertime, we girls had to bring the cows in from the field and into the barn and tie them up in their stanchions. While Daddy or Paul fed the cows, we girls would milk, a routine we repeated twice every day. The chore I hated most was washing the milkers and buckets after we were done. Then, if we didn’t have school, we would go back to bed after breakfast. As I reflect on this I am glad that I learned the value of hard work through this experience.

Here’s Barbara, milking:

Flowers and yard. I had a section in the front yard by the orchard that was mine to plan and plant, and I loved to plant flowers and watch them grow. We girls took pride in our yard, mowing and trimming it.

Butchering Beef and Hogs. Butchering took place at the far end of the barn in the corn shed. Father killed the animal with a shot and then hung it up so it could be bled, a gory sight. After it bled out, the men in the family would gut and skin the animal with sharp knives. The meat would be left hanging for a day or two in the cellar before they would cut it up and take it to the large walk-in locker at Engleside, or give it to the women to can in jars, since we had no freezer at that time. Even after we got a freezer, we still used the locker because of the abundance of meat. When we butchered the hogs, we made use of everything we possibly could. I remember the intestines had to be washed and cleaned to be used for stuffing the sausage. We made bologna from the beef, mixing up the ground meat and the seasonings, then smoking the bologna, or curing it by salting it and letting it dry.

A lot of this work was done in the basement of the summer house, a room off the back porch where we did the canning in the summer. At times, the upper part of the summer house became a storage place or a junk-collecting room. Our laundry was also in the basement of the summer house, where we set big tubs over a fire base to heat water for washing. We also had a corn dryer there that we used to dry apples and corn. On the farm there wasn’t much that we did not do ourselves.

Canning Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats. My mother worked hard preserving foods for our whole family. We worked together shelling peas, snapping beans, or preparing fruit. I loved best preparing the cherries. We would pile in the truck with dozens of containers and go to Shank’s orchard where we would pick the big sweet cherries. Sometimes we would stand on top of the truck cab and pull cherries off by the handfuls. We ate so many that we would get diarrhea, but they were so good. Grandpa would always say to the weigh-out person, “These children should be weighed going in and coming out.” When we got home, the work began of washing the cherries, picking out stems, and seeding some of them for canning.

Threshing Time. When it was time for threshing the wheat or filling silo, we had twelve to fifteen people at a time come to help harvest. The men from several families would work together when it was harvest time by sharing their farm machinery. Then they would go from farm to farm, repeating the same work. Each time they came to our farm we provided the meal, a large sit-down dinner in our dining room that we girls helped prepare. During threshing, we girls had to get the cows in by ourselves, and start the milking.

Lord, I thank you for my past, for times of working together as a family, for learning and working with that which you created.

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