Life on the Farm, Part III Final

Swift Home Place

My parents moved us around a good bit considering the times. I think we were the generation when a lot of our parents threw their nets wider, looking for better jobs. Our travels would have us living in Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, and Ohio. This made our trips back home so much more special.

The highlight for me as a kid was going with Granddaddy to round up the cows for milking. I am not sure how much of the 33 acres were available for pasturing the cows, but I would guess at least 5-10 acres. Of course we were never awake for the morning milking, but the evening milking was a different story.

We would all pile in the back of his old black 1951 Chevy truck and off we would go down the long road toward the barn. Once past the barn, the chase would be on! The truck would climb the hills and make a large loop around the back to urge the cows toward the barn. The windows would be down and Granddaddy would yell at the cows as the truck bounced up and down the hilly terrain. It seemed like the truck flew, but I’m not sure we went over 15 or 20 mph. It was the farm version of an amusement park ride!

It’s funny what the mind holds onto and what it files away for safe keeping. As I started writing this, the inside of the truck cab materialized. I could breathe in the familiar musty smell as if I was sitting inside the truck today. I could see the dashboard, the speedometer and the manual gear shift that my grandfather would move through with ease.

I only remember Granny milking the cows, but her purview was also the yard and the garden. The garden was huge by today’s standards. From corn to tomatoes to cucumbers to potatoes to beans, onions and everything in between, it was all canned and preserved for winter. You could expect Granny hollering upstairs at 7:00 am to get us up to go pick beans or hoe potatoes. There were always chores and everyone did their part.

At the end of the driveway near the road, stood an apple tree. It had been grafted with what Granny referred to as ‘pound apples’ each one weighing almost a pound each. This was the apple used for her applesauce and apple jelly. For us, it was a great climbing tree with a wide Y, perfect for gaining your initial footing. In the fall, we had to be careful and dodge the bees that fed off the overripe apples that fell to the ground.

There was no such thing as eating out, or food ‘to go’. Every meal was cooked and served at the dining room table, although with large family gatherings, the cousins were relegated to any spot we could find – the couch, the stairs, the piano bench, the floor, or even outside. Milk was cold and fresh and butter was freshly churned from the fat that rose to the top of the milk jug. Bread consisted of homemade biscuits or rolls, and cornbread.

Granny had two special recipes she made on special occasions. Idiot Rolls were made for large gatherings and Angel Biscuits for Sunday dinners. They were works of art and although I have her recipes, mine never look like hers did.

And there was almost always a cake of some sort. Sometimes Granny would use a boxed cake mix, but never without adjusting it by adding addional eggs or other ingredients. Almost every cake had a handful of nuts thrown in and most times were iced with a hard brown sugar caramel frosting. The kids (and my father) were well known for sneaking into the dining room and breaking off a piece of the hard candy frosting. Granny often ended up with a partially naked cake.

Every Saturday during the spring and summer, Granny would cut flowers and deliver them to the church to be used on the altar during Sunday service. She grew the most beautifully colored gladiolas I think I have ever seen.

Evenings we marveled at the ‘robot’ eyes we saw in the shed, making up stories about what we saw. The glowing lights were actually the lights from the controls for the electric fences that surrounded the fields. On cold nights, we would pull the rocking chairs my grandfather made close to the fire. Those chairs were precarious. The rockers were long and always made you feel like you were going to fall over backwards!

My brother and my oldest male cousin always loved GrandDaddy’s old muzzleloader rifle. Under his watchful eye, they would follow the steps to clean, lubricate, load and fire the gun. I never had a fascination for guns but they sure did. You can see the instructions here if you are so inclined.

The hay loft was also a place of great fun. The loft was in the upper portion of the barn where baled hay was stored. Access was by ladder, through a hole in the floor. The smell of the hay permeated the barn. We often played there, looking out the upper door that dropped to the ground. (I wonder if this is why I have a fear of heights?)

After a full day, feather beds would be pulled out of the closet and spread on the floor for the kids to sleep on. I can still remember the feel of my head on the pillows and often pulling on a lone sharp feather that had poked its way through the blue striped ticking.

I am sure some kids, somewhere in the midwest and maybe some isolated farms in the south still have experiences similar to these. For me it was 50 some odd years ago. When I spend my time recalling those days, the memories come flooding back. It was a great time to be a kid.


Life on the Farm, Part II

Swift Home Place

My grandfather was a teacher at the Central Luzon Agricultural School in the Philippine Islands in the early 1900s. After he married my grandmother in 1916, both would return to the Philippine Islands, where their first two children were born. The stories of their times in the Philippines are interesting and worth a later more in-depth post.

We are not sure of the original purchase of the farm, but we know their next four children were born there, one every two years from 1922 until my mother was born in November of 1927. From oral history, we think the original farm was approximately 60 acres, but my grandfather sold about half of it (a point of contention with my grandmother) around 1932 when a new deed was issued for 33 acres. I would imagine raising a family of 8 must have been expensive.

In addition to the house, there were many buildings on the farm. I understand from older relatives the barn was moved from its initial location to the one ‘in the holler’ which is the barn I remember. It was well equipped with stalls for milking cows. Granny had a short three-legged stool that she used to milk the cows by hand. Her hands were large and strong. Milking cows is hard work. Later on they would get a milking machine which sped things up dramatically.

In addition to the barn, there was a granary, a corn crib, a chicken house, a tobacco barn, a workshop, a smokehouse, and sheds for the tractors. The fields in summer were full of field corn to feed the cows, and tobacco which would be harvested in late fall and taken to auction. I have written about the tobacco culture before. Most farmers in Virginia raised tobacco as a money crop.

There was a small natural spring at the base of the hill below the house. Sadly, is the only recognizable feature of the farm that remains. What was once a working farm where cows roamed free to graze is now packed with about 40 brick homes with ample yards and nice cars parked in the driveway. While it is sad to see how the purpose of the land changed, the hills are still there as is the spring both heralding back to distant voices and other lives.

There’s more to tell about life on the farm so stay tuned.


Life on the Farm, Part I

Swift Home Place

My two sets of grandparents were born in the same era, but to me, they were on opposite ends of the spectrum. My paternal grandparents were 17 years apart, my maternal grandparents, 7 years apart. My maternal grandparents lived on a farm, my paternal grandparents lived in the country and always planted a large garden, but they were not farmers. My two grandmothers both involved in the church, although different protestant denominations. My maternal grandmother a fearful, repentant Christian and my maternal grandmother a matter-of-fact practical Christian. Their homes were also very different.

My maternal grandparents, Granny and Grand-Daddy, were hard workers. They raised milk cows, grew tobacco (although neither ever smoked), raised pigs and chickens, and planted a huge garden every year. Every day meant rising early to round up the cows and milk them, only to repeat that process at the close of the day. Days were always full and everyone knew a visit to the farm meant you pitched in and helped with chores. There were no days off other than Sunday and even then the cows still had to be milked.

Granny never put on airs. She was short and stout, with her gray hair always slipping out of her bun and falling around her face. Grand-Daddy was a farmer but also a carpenter. He had a wood shop on the farm that always smelled of sawdust. His tools were bolted to his hand-hewn wooden workbench and were well used.

By the time I remember going to Granny’s, it was one of the few surviving farms along a fairly industrial highway. What once had been the main road, now ran parallel to the highway and was busy with semi-trucks passing all the time. Even though you could always hear the trucks, turning into the driveway brought you into a whole new world.

The house was a large white clapboard house, with a front porch leading to the large front yard. No one used the porch, instead they chose to sit in straight-back chairs outside the side door which was always used as the main entrance to the house. Right outside the door was an old cast iron hand-pump that pumped water out of the well.

The side door brought you into the entryway, a utility type room. Under the window was a huge ironing machine or mangler. I do not ever recall seeing it in use, but the crisp white and neatly pressed sheets on the bed were proof of it. There was also a large farm sink where vegetables were washed and dirty farm hands as well. At the back of the room were steps that led into the basement where all of the grandkids hated to go. It was dark and damp, often filled with cobwebs. This is where canned goods were stored for the winter. It also had an open shower coming from open visible pipes. We shuddered when we were told to shower in the basement.

Upstairs there was a large living room with a fireplace, a piano, a single couch and 4 or 5 rocking chairs, handmade by Grand-Daddy. Off of the living room was the master bedroom where my grandparents slept. It had a large pineapple four-poster bed and my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.

The kitchen was off the utility room and connected to a large dining room completely furnished with furniture made by my grandfather. At the center of the room was a large dining room table that seated 10-12 people complete with cane-bottom chairs caned by my grandfather. Off to the side were corner cabinets used to store the Jewel Tea Autumn Leaves dishes, and a side-board or buffet used for serving. (This is also where Granny stored her caramel covered cakes hidden under a dishtowel.)

There was a bathroom, complete with tub, off the kitchen in the main hallway. Grand-Daddy’s razor strap hung off a towel rack on the back of the door, always swinging menacingly – we always heard it was his choice of a discipline tool. That was enough to keep us all in line.

Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom with a tiny shower. One room had a tiny closet under the eaves which made the perfect place to play. If all the grandkids were there (15 in total) feather beds were pulled out of the closet and placed on the floors for the kids to sleep on.

I appreciate the memories now much more than I did as a young child. The drone of the passing trucks throughout the night was the loneliest sound on earth.

This is similar to the ironing machine that sat in the entryway of my grandparents home.