SOMETHING OF MYSELF
By Marie Trupp Krieger
(copyright Marie Trupp Kreiger)
THE HOME OF MY CHILDHOOD
How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood. I recall a home, long since left behind in the journey of life; its memory floats back to me with a shower of emotions and thoughts towards whose precious farmyard rivulet my heart opens itself greedily, like a thirsty flower. It is a home among the sagebrush, thistles, wheat and summer-fallow fields--humble and lowly--but priceless in its wealth of associations.
A shanty was built in 1907, three years before I was born; another small house was moved adjacent to it some years later with the in-between space incorporated enlarging the area somewhat to become a bungalow-type house and painted white. Perhaps that is the reason for my very own white house of 45 years. It was solidly built, situated alongside the dusty country road with a farm lane leading to the farmyard. Even tho it wasn’t situated on a hilltop, westill had a clear view for miles on the prairie daring the winter blizzards or the summer-wind storms to threaten those it protected.
My years growing up there gave me a sense of warmth, security and abundant healthful good food, as well as a sense of responsibility. There were chores assigned to each of the seven children that we were expected to do, yet I do not remember feeling overworked or deprived.
Mother and Dad could not have had an easy life, coping with the problems they faced. I was nearly grown before I realized the sacrifices they made to give us a solid upbringing, possibly a "blood and guts" nurturing. It was far from being a push-button world (electricity had not yet come to the farms) and things were done the hard way. There were no convenience foods, no cake mixes or frozen bread dough.
When we prepared a meal or baked bread we had to be sure that an ample supply of fuel was available for the yawning mouth of the kitchen range. Failing to do that could mean a ruined meal or bread that was inedible. One made that mistake only once, for wasted food was wasted money, and we couldn’t afford that. I don’t remember using sagebrush for fuel at my parents’ farm which had occurred after clearing their prospective acreage for wheat farming; the sage aroma remains in my nostrils on visits to my grandparents who lived at Moody, Washington. My mother had learned to cook by hook or by crook using an extra large "coffee" cup as a standard measuring cup and gauged the one half, one fourth or one third or any others by sight; a pinch of salt or a spoonful of sugar sufficed in her made-up recipes she kept closeted in her head. She had conquered the challenge of the wood range and knew when to add fuel and when to withhold it. I depended on her when I learned to bake "goodies" altho the time I missed adding the leaven, it was up to me to eat the flat cake.
Mother raised a large garden with her children’s help and the produce so carefully preserved for winter use. She canned, pickled, salted and dried foods that later could be an important part of her bountiful meals. It was rarely a problem planning a meal or what to cook--it was there to be chosen--but every filled receptacle represented work and cooperation of each member of the family.
We made sauerkraut from the large, firm cabbages that were shredded on a so-called krautboard, packed in large stoneware crocks with the proper amount of salt, then my mother would place a nice clean white cloth over the cabbage (a bleached salt or sugar sack) held in place by a round board used only for that purpose and weighted by a rock she had scrubbed to perfection in cleanliness. Every few days she would remove the weights to rinse out the cloths in clear water before their replacement to avoid any mold which could form at the top of each crock. She also added the last of the garden carrots, scraped and distributed throughout the layered cabbage. It was hard to wait until its maturity, so we sampled it long before its time. Apples and watermelons were preserved in separate barrels; noodles were made while the hens supplied a surplus of eggs. A full-time task for a conscientious mother who seemed to have the know-how in raising a happy family. As a daughter, I had second thoughts about many facets concerning family living; I sometimes wondered if I would be able to fulfill all the duties required of the pioneer housewife. Thank goodness for modern living conditions, more than just existence.
Sundays at our house left warm memories. Some of the ducks and chickens my mother raised graced the table at our Sunday dinners. When we were still quite young, she spared us the sight of the butchering but as we grew older, a sadness overcame us when the fowl was killed, but all was forgotten when our hunger was appeased at supper or lunch time. Mother’s stuffing was special, always moist and fluffy and I have never been able to duplicate it. I can still see her standing at the kitchen stove and stirring it in a frying pan, onions being fried first; the special aroma is still in the air to this day. Butchering of hogs and cattle was always done in the fall when the first cold days arrived. It was an exciting time, even though we knew it meant hard work. Part of the enjoyment was in knowing we could have fresh beef liver and fresh-fried sausage patties. Sausage patties were preserved in lard in a crock for later use; reheated in the oven, the excess fat poured off, ready to be served. Armistice Day, November 11th (it’s Veterans Day now), a school holiday, the onset of the first sprinkle of snow, captured the imagination as the appointed day. Every edible part of the animal was used; A ground mixture of boiled livers, kidneys, hearts, tongues, hog heads and seasoning was placed in cloth bags or casings and cooked to be known as liver sausage, a special favorite of mine, cold-sliced. The freshly-ground pork and beef, blended and flavored to perfection, then stuffed into casings was smoked in addition to the salt-cured bacon and hams in a homemade smoke house. Oftentimes the finished product continued hanging on rods during the coldest weather; usually in the case of left-over sausage, it landed in Kerr or Ball glass jars to be canned by my mother for future use.
The fat was rendered to be used in cooking and the utilized lard, the main ingredient in the home-manufactured soap assumed a new important role in the daily household chores--dishwashing, laundry, even bathing--later, a gray-colored mechanic soap used for the face, greasy hands, hair shampoo appeared on the scene. One might shudder concerning the use of caustic lye in soap, but one’s hands remain soft, it really cleans and whitens the laundry items without leaving residue clinging to the clothes. I still make my own by using my Aunt Pearl’s recipe such as one can of lye dissolved in one quart of water and cooled, then slowly added to three quarts of clean melted grease continuously stirring with a wooden spoon in an enameled container while adding three tablespoons of each of two components, boraxo and ammonia until the entire combination begins to set. Cut into bars, remove from vessel and shred. The entire process needs to be done outdoors on a cool day.
Life on the farm was not dull or boring. There were the exciting mornings when we discovered a baby calf, a new colt, tiny piglets or baby chicks and ducks. To teach a young animal to drink or to watch a barely-dry baby duck swim was rewarding and fun. The days of the combine harvesting the grain and the crew needed in the early days of my childhood, I remember.
Lemons were only purchased in the summertime to quench the thirst of the crew with lemonade and I can’t forget the lemon pies, yum, yum. Winter evenings on the farm were quiet and relaxing, my father read his German newspapers and Bible while we studied and prepared our lessons for the next day while mother patched clothes. She would also peel apples for snacks before bedtime--we played subdued games, but certainly, life was not all fun and games. There were the Depression years, the dust storms, drought, crop failures, destructive hail storms and the World War I years. Those years had to be challenging ones for Mother and Dad, yet their faith never seemed to waver. They managed to give my growing years real meaning; I feel so very grateful for memories that have no price, and cannot be duplicated.
I was born on November 29, 1910 on a wheat ranch, post office address, Box 31, Irby, WA (southwest of Odessa) in Adams County and christened on Christmas Day, December 25, 1910, at the Congregational Emmaus church situated in the northwest corner of Adams County on the Lincoln County line. The Rev. G. Graedel officiated while the sponsors represented friends of my parents, Miss Verona (Frona) Richter, Mr. Wendell Hamburg and his wife, Anna Kath, did the honors. I was remembered with gifts for many years, a memento consisting of a cup and saucer occupies a special place among other coveted memorabilia in my cupboard but my two dolls were mutilated in the machine shop by my two younger brothers; the moving parts of the eyes had sparked their curiosity to the point of removal. A heartbroken tearful child!
I had become the middle surviving child to grow into adulthood, four brothers and two sisters evenly divided. Six other siblings had succumbed to unexplained infant afflictions prior to my birth; the sad experiences of losing her babies concealed in my mother’s heart never really surfaced although many years later a mention of the unmarked resting places was made. One might attribute the good fortune to the remaining seven as the "survival of the fittest": natural selection.
My digestive problems began as early as three months into this earthly life in the form of adjusting to cow’s milk; a baby brother was born on my first birthday, a gift from heaven. Imagine no formula to appease the appetite of an infant or to allay the hunger so vital to one’s existence. Crackers soaked in cow’s milk and spooned into my mouth at such an early age when a baby needs to suck; therefore, the bad habit of sucking the tongue developed and was practiced for many years. The teasing inflicted by an older sister left its mark; no doubt, a behavior pattern not easily overcome, much like thumb sucking. Nail biting cropped up later. Perhaps the modern-day pediatrician could offer a better explanation. Imaginably, for all one knows, being reminded repeatedly of the unpleasant and annoying mannerism tolerated by others, I trained my thoughts to excel by practicing reaching the end of my nose with the lingua which I accomplished to the dismay of family members. Sibling rivalry is still very much in evidence today which I have resisted my entire lifetime.
Religious training began in babyhood since the entire family attended church services every Sunday morning. Babies became accustomed to the singing of hymns, readings from the Bible or the minister’s sermons. Mothers, always aware of their responsibilities in regards to the behavior of their children, immediately exited with an unruly screaming youngster to the porch or even outside to prevent any unnecessary commotion. Keen competition arose among families concerning their off- springs' conduct. Spankings, administered in severe cases of misbehavior produced good results. I'm sure an indoctrination in my case, a lesson learned in childhood remained firmly implanted in my mind innumerable years.
I don’t remember any particular events in which I was an active participant of my life before the first year of public schooling except the continual struggle for a rightful position within the family circle. I spoke the German language, the familiar dialect of Frank, Russia, spoken by my parents. Not knowing when English words became interjected into my speaking vocabulary, it’s difficult to say if I encountered any obstacle of major significance when I began my education. I discovered in good time that cooperation played a meaningful role among my parents and siblings as well as teacher and schoolmates. By honoring my mother’s requests as her helpful assistant, I obtained the sought-after, longed-for attention to satisfy my selfishness.
I entered the first grade at the Schafer School, District #73 in Adams County, the State of Washington. Mrs. Grace Watson, the teacher for my first two annoying years, taught all eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse. The total attendance numbered about 30; to my knowledge everyone learned to read, write, spell and solve mathematical problems. I recall via photos of the schoolhouse the location of the only door leading outside which faced north off a small enclosed porch. The space housed the outer wearing apparel of the students, a mirror, a bench with a water bucket and dipper to quench the lads’ and lasses’ thirst. A small window overlooking the bench provided outdoor light. Within the one room, one found blackboards lining the east wall and the north wall between two doors leading to the porch. The teacher’s desk sat at the north end so the instructor faced the pupils seated at their classroom desks. The schoolteacher used a comfortable oak chair when seated at the desk. The west wall’s four large windows furnished the necessary light in the daytime; venetian blinds controlled any unwanted sunshine. It’s apparent that desks could not be uniform in size to accommodate all eight grades. A large bookcase situated in the southeast corner, the upper half with shelves protected by glass doors filled with books and twelve volumes of the encyclopaedia "Book of Knowledge" while the lower half served as a storage area containing additional supplies such as erasers, chalk, etc. I can’t remember how many times I read or reread the twelve volumes and the inadequate supply of available publications. I always admired the huge Webster’s Dictionary with my heart set to own one some day. Half of the south wall provided more blackboards, all slate boards were green. A black pot-bellied stove, three quarters surrounded by a sheath of heavy metal for safety, monopolized the southwest corner; manually operated, its fuel supply consisted of wood and coal. One more corner where a closet harbored janitorial supplies (northwest) while in front of it stood an instrument called a phonograph, the music box. The game of musical chair created quite a ruckus, it was fun. Custodian duties were handled by the teacher who usually received aid from the family with whom she boarded and roomed. The combination desks and seats remained permanently bolted to the floor for the frames were constructed of iron and with minimum care lasted indefinitely. Since unavailable locker space faced the learners, their possessions such as books, tablets, pencils, crayons ink & pens rested securely in the compartment of each desk. Theft of any articles never occurred. Severe punishment in case of detection awaited any thief. Compulsory age requirements appertaining to attendance meant a grade school diploma or attaining 16 years, a stage of life. A certificate indicated passing grades (70 the lowest) in every subject via state examinations held in a near-by town under strict supervision. Neighborly scuffling transpired frequently among the older boys which intrigued as well as scared the younger children; instructions from our father prevented us from defending ourselves. After my brothers returned home from school with torn clothes, they received permission to protect themselves, No more ripped apparel after that edict.
The spacious school yard nearly 1/4 of an acre allowed an area for swings, teeter totter, boys’ and girls’ outhouses and a barn to accommodate horses during the learning sessions. An unused cement-lined cistern, a large receptacle below the ground for storing drinking water erected by the school board remained a surplus and dangerous addition. An errand performed by the older boys, the carrying of a pail of water from the neighboring farm before school openings and at noon kept a steady supply available for everyone’s needs. I don’t remember if the male counterparts led the horses to a watering trough entrenched in the next-door farmer’s yard. I’m sure the animals needed to quench their thirst with a little H20 in the middle of the day, also. We had a buggy with a top for shelter driven by a horse for transporting five of us to school, a little crowded perhaps but by the time the youngest sibling entered first grade, my two older brothers had finished all of their formal education. We took hay with us for the horse’s noon feeding. When bad weather such as blizzards and snow-covered roads menaced us, we piled into a sled, huddled under a quilt for protection from the severe cold while our father or oldest brother maneuvered the horses for the ride. The liability impressed on our minds renewed itself when our attendance recorded on our report cards fulfilled a vital function.
The influence of the McGuffey Readers, with their emphasis on sentiment, patriotism, virtue and ambition were all strongly evident. Patriotism stressed in grade school--love of country--the stars and stripes--the flag, red, white and blue (Stars shine on you). Songs and poems reminded one constantly. Like the arid soil--only needed water, our people hungered for formal schooling. Parents had been short-changed, handicapped so to speak without any conventional education in addition to being ignorant of their adopted land’s language. We were forced to do our own school assignments, possibly drilled in multiplication tables or spelling bees by an older sibling. Our parents’ sole obligation necessitated our presence in the schoolroom. Growing up in a totalitarian household served us well.
My third grade teacher’s name was Miss Ida Fink. At one time school boards did not hire married teachers so my first and second grade schoolmarm must have been a widow. I believe Miss Fink could have wielded the ruler in its application to my right hand, one and only incident of its kind; I don’t recall the reason but I do remember the discipline. Fourth grade memories revived thoughts of an actress, SHY ME pretending to be Queen Isabella in a drama about Columbus sailing the ocean blue and discovering America. I have visual recollections of the gray with red trim history book. It nearly broke my heart when I was ordered to sit on the same bench and move a little closer to the boy in my class who played King Ferdinand V of Spain. Miss Lula Harmon performed the 4th grade instructional duties.
My special mental aptitude produced the well-known title of the fifth mentor, Miss Hilda Gross who headed for Montana after a year. I still treasure a tea cup and saucer on my cupboard shelf, a Christmas gift, 65 years old. By spring I had advanced in my studies to represent my school in a talent meet. Six country systems competed in penmanship, spelling and declamatory in several divisions, upper and lower; a first experience in any award-winning contest--1st in penmanship, 2nd in spelling and 2nd in declamatory, honors for my school and myself. A poem, "The House by the Side of the Road" was recited from memory to the audience with all the expression and courage I could muster. The prizes--money--a rare commodity in any household those days. Just think, $1.25 but, what happened? My father borrowed it to pay for a train ride to a church conference and never kept his vow to repay me. A broken heart, indeed! Bitterness never entered my mind but I never forgot the injustice thrust upon me. I remember my mother admonishing my father concerning his unfulfilled promises in their 57 years together. Memory in youth is active and easily impressible; in old age it is comparatively callous to new impressions, but still retains vividly those of earlier years.
Since the one-room school house couldn’t accommodate a piano, a phonograph provided the marches via records for the game of musical chairs, not much lively recreation for indoor and cold weather activities, Health classes introduced us to bending exercises from the waist forward, sideways with hands on hips, backwards, etc. Windows were opened and deep breathing of fresh air followed. An ironic procedure for farmers’ offspring after performing the everyday outdoor chores before leaving for school with more to look forward to after the day had ended. In good weather we even played baseball until the school bell beckoned us indoors. Fresh air to maintain healthy bodies was especially stressed and that’s mostly what we were subjected to in the wide open spaces. The girls more so than the boys amused themselves by skipping rope individually or enlisting others in acquiring special skills. Competition prevailed among us to jump longer than anyone else. One tried specific movements while jumping to the lyrics of "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn a- round; Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground; Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Pull your hair; Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Get out of there," sung by the twirlers holding the ends of the rope. A skillful jumper managed to run away at the end of the song by not getting touched by the rope. We played Run, Sheep Run, Hide and Seek and the "It" person would call out, "Bushel of wheat, Bushel of Rye; Who's not ready, Holler I" as the players scattered, Drop the handkerchief, Hop scotch, pump, pump, pullaway or a game of Tag, Olla Olla, auction free, Tug of War, marbles, fox and geese, one that was played in the snow; a garage roof, a soft ball and a player on each side of the building as one would attempt to toss the ball over the roof, he called out the phrase "Antiover", if unsuccessful, "Anti come back" and then there was "Skip the my Lou, my darling" but baseball was really the favorite of the older groups. Other ditties I remember: "One for you, One for me and one for sister Annie" and "Einee, minee, minee mo, Catch the nigger by the toe, If he hollers, let him go, l- 2-3 and out goes he."
At home among the siblings, (there were always plenty of them) the leisure winter hours were filled with play such as "Hide the Thimble", the person who hid it would provide the phrases "hot" or "cold" as the players approached the hidden article, the lucky finder says, "I spy" upon discovery; "Button, Button, Who has the button?", a circle is formed, a person in the middle tries to guess the possessor of the button which has been passed among the participants by the
clapping of hands. My father opposed our playing of games so we had to have fun on the sly. My brothers built a checkerboard out of a square block of wood, nailed tin plate squares on it and used black and white buttons for the two players. The boys would hide it when my father put in an appearance but as they got older and braver, carelessness took over. Father snatched it in spite of their protests, broke it into halves with a bang across his knee, disposed of it by throwing the beloved board into the roaring fire of the heater. Card playing was taboo, my brother Fred played the game at his cronies’ house. Henry purchased Flinch cards for Sunday afternoon entertainment with friends while the parents attended prayer meetings. I never really cultivated any great interest in card merrymaking; to me it seemed a ‘drag’ and a waste of time. I’d rather crochet or read because I visioned an awareness of fulfillment in my efforts and hours well-spent. Playing baseball or executing farm chores afforded me the physical exercise I required in my early teens. I had a yen for writing, especially letters and poetry.
By the time I finished the sixth grade, I comprehended my maturity to form my own system of beliefs common sense, a natural inherited trait--not perfection as I made mistakes along the way. Perhaps my mother’s influence caused me to share her concepts. Learning to sew by hand and secretly fascinated by the mechanics of the treadle machine urged me to design and construct my own clothes, undergarments of bleached flour sacks satisfied my longings up to my college years. To labor side by side with my conscientious mother was an experience in itself in performing farm chores, holding the lantern while she checked the setting hens, or in assisting in the drudgery of hoeing Russian thistles thriving on summer-fallow land and along barbed-wire fences. Her suggestions and solutions jibed. Straw hats and men’s long sleeved work shirts, a must to counteract a sun tan with the impossibility of creating a leather-like appearance of the skin also prohibited a sun- burn. Little did I realize then that it was a wise effort in thwarting skin cancers on exposed areas.
One summer before rotary weeders surfaced and Henry’s muscles hadn’t fully developed to handle machinery of that kind, Jacob and I had been recruited to assume a task. The rod of the weeder became plugged necessitating Henry to occasionally lift the board he stood on. The entire contraption while in motion required more than the operator’s weight. Two apple boxes, one fastened to each end of the crosspiece above the rod occupied by Jacob and me were just the ticket. Infrequent stops directed us to extricate our bodies from the wooden containers for Henry to raise the complete mechanism to a certain degree. The dust obliterated all fresh air; talk about child abuses. That was it in terms of today! To think children under twelve are denied strawberry picking here! I wore my straw hat as a shield to conceal my head and possibly a handkerchief covered my nose and eyes. I’m positive our dust-saturated clothes portrayed us to the point of unrecognizable human beings by the noon hour as well as the end of the work day; that is, if the wind didn’t blow or wasn’t in our favor. Thank goodness for the ingenuity displayed by creating more appropriate machinery soon after that summer’s ordeal or the procedure was handled differently.
A new teacher for my sixth grade studies, Miss Bernadine Kennedy, also remained only one year. She was courted by a young man, Fred Frick, whose father purchased my father’s homestead but they didn’t marry until 1924. While they dated, someone had remarked about his loss of hair, a family trait, but Miss Kennedy defended her boy friend by saying, "he might not have anything on the top of his head, but he has a lot inside." How right she was as they had a rich life together, raised a fine family, became successful wheat farmers and my Miss Kennedy as Mrs. Frick assumed an active role in community affairs besides being a wife and mother.
Life on the wheat farm in eastern Washington was considered simple and routine. Besides the section of cultivated wheat acreage (640 acres) my father owned until my fourth year of high school, he also leased land from other people or companies in the Moody area, Ruff and Wheeler vicinities by dragging farm machinery, horses, etc., all over the countryside which was a mistake. An unprofitable partnership at Moody in a sheep enterprise fizzled when the associate satisfied his appetite to the detriment of our investment and labor. We nurtured the lambs who were born in the dead of winter, put them out to pasture only to observe profits disappear. My mother salvaged enough wool to send to a Portland, Oregon, firm at that time for laundering and carding into 4 pound batts which she covered as quilts for herself and each one of her children. I still have mine to use when needed.
After 1900, for about 20 years, wild grasses grew among the sagebrush on the hillsides for grazing sheep and cattle in the Moody country. Springs, a natural water source, flowed into the creeks located in the gullies which eventually disappeared to our dismay. Civilization and population growth caused changes in the water level by the digging of innumerable wells; not only that but less snow in winter with little rain in the spring months soon produced an arid and desolate terrain far and wide. I recall the stream of water in the creek, green vegetation growing on both sides of its banks--choke cherries to pick and eat--a cherry containing a large pit in its center surrounded by very little flesh. Bushes of wild pink roses with single petals grew in quantity along the embankment in addition to wild currants. Buttercups and a short-stemmed rose grew around rocks, a blue flower which we had named “rabbit” can still be seen along roadsides today even in areas with excessive moisture, other unidentifiable species could be found hither and yon. The first settlers southwest of Odessa planted fruit trees; a low survival rate resulted according to my knowledge due to negligence or ignorance in providing proper care. Two or three mulberry trees remain most vividly in my mind especially the succulent pies my mother baked using the purplish-red, berry-like fruit. The poplar shade trees which served as a wind break lasted indefinitely. Windmills, so called because they were driven by the wind instead of electric power but later replaced by gas engines and eventually electricity were not always dependable in the absence of wind in the summer heat to supply water for the stock and household. A water-storage facility, a cistern with a hand pump manipulated by one of the children proved to be a tedious errand. Vegetable gardens flourished to augment the larder in farm households, my mother was to continue the practice to her dying day in spite of living in the city. Father had built an earthen dam on the only low-lying ground within the perimeter of a 640 acre spread. Here we raised all of our potatoes for a family of nine, tasty muskmelons, mouth-watering watermelons and (schwarzebirre), a wild black small seedy domestic berry almost impossible to exterminate which grew on low bushes but exceedingly tasty with many uses.
This particular territory, the natural habitat of many wild and domesticated animals, fowl, birds, rodents, bugs, plants, weeds, kept a child intrigued with its surroundings. Even dead beasts weren’t always buried but left for the wild creatures to devour. When a horse or cow died, mostly of unknown causes, without the availability of a veterinarian, the carcass was often left in a coulee or draw away from the farmyard. Coyotes, hawks and other birds had a feast, the weather dried up some of the residue left on the bones. The sun sterilized and pulverized bones but we salvaged some from the horses’ and cows’ legs near the feet to use as toys. Sound gruesome? Not at all! We pretended the special parts of the skeleton were horses and cows. Apple boxes provided lumber for our unique projects we fashioned to serve as barns in housing the exotic trinkets. It’s surprising how much a child enjoys using a hammer and nails to keep busy and while away the hours; a learning experience. Any piece of string or twine won its rightful place among the makeshift toys. Dolls (toys made to resemble a baby) and tops (cone-shaped toys with a point upon which it is spun) won the hearts of the girls and boys in later years.
My siblings and I accepted turns as cowherds but as we outgrew that stint to assume more responsibilities, a younger one filled the role. Children want to be busy so we built hills and valleys of dirt, used our makeshift toys, carried a tree twig as a weapon in case of an unruly calf or cow and devised our own entertainment in the wide open spaces. In the case of two of us, we played horse and driver using a rope for reins and improvised by imitating a horse’s actions in any situation even to the point of neighing.
Utilizing the country roads as grazing grounds served several purposes--controlled weeds as well as pro-viding feed--in the early fall. The terrain, on each side of the traveled ungraveled country road, received a planting of winter wheat kernels by the farmer whose fields bordered the roadway. The seeds sprouted, became desirable vegetation for spring and summer time grazing after the plowing of inner fields. Many Russian thistles grew along the roadsides and under barbed-wire fences which in the growing green state were eaten by the cattle in the absence of suitable fodder. To me the verdure appeared inadequate; I often wondered about milk production but no one complained (I ate cottage cheese). Unfortunate results could occur by causing bloating if too much water was consumed and even death. Cattle and sheep require certain chemicals like calcium, magnesium and potassium found in rock salt; therefore, salt blocks also termed lick sticks placed in several locations in the barnyard satisfied the animals’ appetite. Uncontrolled matured thistles produced a million or more seeds to be scattered over the countryside by the winds; it was the most feared weed in the wheat fields. I do remember a mustard weed, yellow blooms in abundance, growing among the wheat. We walked between the rows of planted grain long before hay cutting season, pulled each plant out of the ground, roots and all very carefully, placed the main stem lengthwise flat on top of the soil to dry up. I believe we pretty much eradicated it in that manner.
Barbed wire fences surrounded all acreages but occasionally an unrestrained cow wiggled her way through the fence because of hunger for better feed. If the grain grew too near the fence, it could be reached between the two barbed wires strung lengthwise connecting two fence posts. (I liked manning the tool with which we dug holes for the cedar posts which were placed upright.) Specific wood yokes made of four lightweight boards, two perpendicular with two crosspieces with an Opening in the center fitted around the cow’s head prevented the old bossy from maneuvering her body between the wires of the fence. In some cases, the exception being a rule, the forelegs near the feet were hobbled to curtail the cow’s wanderings. A severe reprimand was the order of the day if one or more animal broke into a grain field inflicting damage of major proportions. A major concern could involve a neighbor’s cattle which did happen. Henry drove the cattle into our barn and closed the doors refusing to allow the neighbor’s children to retrieve them because he wanted to be reimbursed for the damages the cattle had caused. Within the hour, the neighbor’s wife arrived with a pitchfork, marched to the barn door, slid it open, removed the livestock to guide it to her home. Henry, impelled to stand aside watched the proceedings with dismay. Such incidents caused animosity between one’s fellow man; my father went out of his way to keep the peace with which we children didn’t always agree. I don’t recall that anyone ever took the law into his own hands to clobber someone using a gun to settle a dispute. I overheard one time that my grandfather considered it necessary to own a revolver and did have one in his possession; let’s hope for his stock’s protection from wild animals.
Among the domesticated animals besides the sheep and cows, a bull exerted its influence in the propagation of the cattle until our prized bull died very suddenly one night. A short rope attached to a ring in its nose, a safety feature, allowed a child to lead the Holstein critter to the barn. In addition to our horses, several stallions occupied a special place in the barnyard at one time; one of them being a complete failure in its function in the line of procreation. A lost leader, again my father had been betrayed in a business deal. Believe me, a strutting stallion made one’s hair stand on end; thank goodness, my brother Fred was able to manipulate that chore. A mule, a cross between a mare and a donkey handled the work load better than a horse especially during extreme hot temperatures the sun dealt the earth throughout the entire time of grain harvesting. Economically a plus for the farmer by curtailing expenses in the feeding program. One sometimes wondered if tolerating the stubbornness was worth the savings.
Our cats as privileged characters roamed within the farm area seeking their own food especially mice whose population needed to be controlled. Field mice, classed as rodents sought grain, flour and any other foodstuffs; they would chew holes into sacks of grain or flour to my mother’s dismay. That meant mending before the next harvest season. I disliked that dirty chore, the sacks were turned wrong side out with patches cut from an unmendable sack to fit the hole and sewed with a needle threaded with sack string; then the sack was turned right side out. As an extra liquid for the hordes of cats, we set small bowls of milk near the house, because a surplus always existed; Mama cats lost no time bringing their litters of kittens to partake of the delicacy. Even the dog and the chickens enjoyed the skim milk. A dog’s favorite food included a bone and the table scraps.
Saddle horses or ponies to ride, essential for rounding up the horses or cattle, proved their worth. I loved to ride horseback to our mailbox urging the pony on to run as fast as possible. Luckily I managed not to fall off a horse. In many cases, walking as the main mode of transportation couldn’t be beat.
In the line of fowl, we raised chickens, ducks and geese. The geese’s existence soon became extinguished, their screechings and attacks on small children couldn’t be tolerated. I’m still afraid of ganders and their hissings since the day my little brother Daniel barely escaped being eliminated from this earth. A small pond constructed to receive an overflow of water from the stock watering tank kept the ducks contented. Rated high on the "must" list was the wind; its purpose? To keep that windmill turning in order to pump a sufficient amount of water at all times. In later years a gas engine served as a more dependable permanent solution. I doubt if my father realized how we children prayed for the wind to blow so we wouldn’t have to hand pump the water out of the cistern to supply the thirsty stock. Ducks’ feathers were plucked from the living, swimming web-footed bird to be used in pillows and feather quilts. The down was not removed until the creature became table fare and by then new feathers had replaced those plucked earlier--a second crop. The fertilized duck eggs were always placed under a setting (chicken) hen. A remarkable phenomenon always amazed us--the tiny bills pecked through the egg as the birth process progressed--almost immediately the baby ducks sought a swim or a bite of food. My mother prepared mash comprised of cracked wheat, whole chopped potatoes (peelings and all), dried and crushed bits of egg shells (recycled kitchen refuse) for a special diet until the baby ducks and chicks could forage for them- selves including green foliage for a balanced diet. The concocted combination of ingredients didn’t always produce the best aroma for the human nostrils; its swift disappearance when presented proved its tastefulness.
If I haven’t repeated the fact that absolutely nothing was wasted on the farm, it behooves me to repeat it again and again. The American people including descendants of the Germans from Russia of today need to accept a few of the lessons learned by the first settlers of this wonderful country. Now with all of this controversy in regards to garbage dumps and the constant howl about recycling, we might have to return to the examples set by our forefathers. History does repeat itself!
But back to the fluffy yellow balls after their release from egg shells; the peep, peep still echoes in my ears, the thrill of having been born, the cluck, cluck of those mother hens as if to say, "See what I’ve been waiting for!" Today fowl is mass produced, no individual attention from humans; their entire purpose is to provide tasteful nourishment after reaching their full growth for the populace. I can’t describe the fulfillment or joy my siblings received, if they did, but my animated emotions are evident as I reminisce about the births and the maturing of any living entity created on the farm, even plants of every variety. A seed has an exciting life cycle. For it indeed held the interest of a small child as well as a grownup's.
Jacob’s and my birthday coincided with Thanksgiving Day because November 29th periodically fell on the last Thursday of the month, a day to celebrate both events with aunts and uncles. Cousins we lacked until many years later. A dinner, a roasted duck or two stuffed with my mother’s special delicious dressing served with gravy, homemade cooked noodles in soup, rye bread, apple kuchen baked the day before (when we became more americanized, apple pies surfaced), satisfied the hungry group. It was always a distinctive honor for the two of us because time had been the essence when other family members had birthdays. My father often referred to us as his twins. Some years our heights measured the same, perhaps another year Jacob rated as the taller and vice versa. Then one day, the inevitable did happen--I had reached my potential--Jacob had sailed by forever. A sad day for his female counterpart!
We had a pigpen, a wooden enclosure constructed of slightly spaced-apart weighty boards nailed to posts secured in the ground, in our farmyard to house our pigs who deserved confinement because of their rooting abilities. The floor of the structure was composed of Mother Earth, plain dirt. The pigs’ trough, a long, narrow, open wooden container held water or food for the animals; it served a dual purpose for them during summer hot spells as a cooling off place. The vessel set along and against one wall of the more or less square roofless fenced-in area. In one corner, a shady section built with dilapidated boards as a cover for protection from the hot elements. The stupid brute beasts slurped the waste carried to them from the kitchen, not much food value in that--we called it slop. Grain was fed to them plus all the water necessary for their growth. They enjoyed rubbing their bodies on their housing causing boards to crack, eventually break for a legitimate escape. Chickens roamed freely seeking food wherever it might be found; at night, a return to the chicken house to assume a perch. Convenient nests, available during the day for the laying hens in their abode were emptied every day. Sometimes in the springtime a hen decided privacy to be a better route by making a nest in a hideaway of her own choosing. After hatching her eggs, she would appear with her brood out of nowhere in hopes of providing food and better lodging for her new family. Chickens wandered into the pigpen to peck at the waste, not only that but to eat the wheat kernels in the pigs’ trough at great risk of life. A taste of chicken by the old sow whetted her appetite to the point of seeking more of the delicacy. She broke out of the pen and headed right for the chicken coop, the cackle of the fowl alerted my father arousing his emotions to anger this particular evening. Father called, "Marie, bring me the butcher knife." I was horrified especially when he chopped into the sow’s snoot. Was there any logic behind that action? Evidently. The healing of the snout produced scabs; when confronted by a chicken, the sow would want to retreat. LO AND BEHOLD! A complete failure! The next project involved the building of an enclosure in a coulee, a reasonable distance to avoid the barnyard fowl.
That meant additional expendable energy in caring for our stock. The filled slop buckets and the grain demanded transportation to the tune of about 600 feet. Is it any wonder that I developed my muscles? One evening just after dusk, we heard the piglets squeal, I mean extraordinarily continuing loud squeals. Immediately we directed our thoughts to the possibility that a wild animal had entered the enclosed space. My mother, a brother and I had been more or less winding up the evening’s errands so we were carrying a lighted lantern. We couldn’t ignore the appeal, rushed to the crest of the hill, all squeals had subsided, my mother stopped all movements, and quietly said, "We must not go any farther." We heard a car leave the scene moving down the road. The next morning, we discovered two piglets had completely vanished, no tell-tale signs of an attack. To our chagrin, not too many days hence, the news repeated by word of mouth that a neighbor had purchased two little pigs from another neighbor. The mystery had been solved with very little inquiry but proof appeared inadequate. A year or so ago, I heard that same fellow had stolen a buggy whip used on the horses. The unfortunate victim spotted it later, grabbed it, then used it on the thief. I say, "Such were the ‘good’ old days!"
Our milk cows from whom we departed at the farm auction in 1935, left a deep impression on my memory --no thoroughbreds--just pets. Rosie, Ruby and Beauty supplied our household majestically with cream and milk, furnishing our butter made by a hand churn while mother made quantities of cottage cheese, my favorite milk product. Beauty voluntarily came to the gate near the house to be milked, she responded to her name and the rattling of the milk pail. Bless her heart, such fine memories.
A milkmaid I was from the time I could possibly manage to squeeze the cow’s teats successfully. The benefit one derives from that errand is full development of one’s hands and fingers. Many years later I met a lady who shook my hand and remarked, "Arbeit’s Hände." What a preparation for future salmon fishing and yard work after my experience with baseball in grade school, badminton and archery in college. Long after we were no longer involved with sheep, sheepherders drove their band down a road past our farmhouse. Jacob and I received two newly-born lambs, a challenge and trust we accepted to provide their proper care. After maturity, Jacob’s ram fell victim to the butcher knife but I refused the same fate for my ewe. For years it tagged along behind the cows no matter where they chose to go until it died of old age; maybe it considered itself a calf. The ribbing, "Mary had a little lamb" fell on deaf ears.
I remember a rose bush, very prickly, produced countless short-stemmed yellow roses considering the minimum care; hardly any moisture did the species require. Accepting within the category of weeds other than the Russian thistle, the Jim Hill mustard plants, some, like wild lettuce (milkweed), wild onion, garlic or carrot, a yellow flower resembling a daisy (cow flower) and cheat grasses continued to trouble the ranchers. Chemical weed killers became more popular after World War II. Be it fall or spring plantings of wheat, the principal grain crop faced negligible competition even though scant growths of rye, barley or oats often replaced it. Rye’s production rate outdid wheat on arid soil. Alfalfa grew elsewhere in irrigated fields. The only remaining trees alongside our house when we left Adams County functioned as wind breakers while at the same time furnishing shade by warding off the sun for more comfortable living, hats off to the famous poplar with its catkins. When traveling through eastern and central Washington, I find many serving the same purpose.