Back in the late 1800s James Elsworth Bridges courted and married Nora "Belle" Curry. They bought a farm in Hancock County, Indiana built a house, and were blessed with six children. The children's names were Charles Elsworth, Eva Louise, Rufus Ralph, Russell Edward, Oren Curry, and the youngest, Mary Rose who we call "Rosie". Our Aunt Rosie has written some of her memories.
I was born in a white two-story farmhouse near the small town of Greenfield, Indiana. This was "home" to me until I married. There was no doubt in my mind that we had the prettiest home in the entire neighborhood. The surrounding area was what made it so pretty. In the front of the house, near the road, was a huge hackberry tree, a beautiful tree, so tall and stately. Our house faced the west so it shaded the area from the afternoon sun. Near the farm area, directly south, stood its twin. When I was still quite young, Mom told me that the trees were about 80 years old. Before I was born, the barn burned down and the tree was burned, which weakened it but did not destroy it. However, many years later a severe storm took it down.
Mom loved flowers. She had three beautiful peony bushes and a rose-of-sharon that graced the front yard. Regardless of her busy life, she always found time to plant flower seeds in the spring, zinnias, marigolds, etc. She planted sweetpeas on three sides of the garden along the fence. It was a big garden and I have never seen such big and beautiful sweetpeas or such a variety of colors. Needless to say, we always had bouquets of flowers in the house.
When I was small, our living room was carpeted with strips of rug sewn together until they were long enough and wide enough to fit the room size. These strips were made on a weaving loom. The rug was tacked down with carpet tacks. It was a big job each spring to pull out all of the carpet tacks, take the carpet outside, place it over the clothesline and beat out the dust with a carpet beater. After thoroughly cleaned, it was taken in and retacked to the floor. Later, I must have been ten or twelve years old, the carpet, well worn, was discarded and replaced with a "store bought" rug. Since it was impossible to get a rug to fit the exact room size, approximately 18 inches around the edges the floor was painted, usually a medium brown color. I remember one year the floor was badly in need of a new coat of paint and Mom cried because there was not enough money to buy the needed paint. Mom liked to have the house look nice but had very little money to buy things she wanted. If new curtains could be afforded it was time for a celebration.
House cleaning in the spring was quite an event. Everyone old enough helped if they were not engaged in other chores. A couple of Mom's sayings were "A clean house is a warm house" and "If you don't take care of your home, your home won't take care of you". In addition to the rug beating, all bedclothes were taken downstairs and hung across the clothesline to air. After a few hours they were turned and the other side was aired. On top of straw beds we had feather "ticks" or beds. Mom kept a flock of geese from which she plucked their "down". The "down", taken from the goose's underside, was put in pillowcases and kept until there was enough to fill the feather "ticks". The "old" feathers were taken out of the feather ticks and the best of them were put into pillows. The new feather beds were wonderful to sink down into, so soft and comfortable. Everybody was happy when they got new feathers. They never were all new at the same time, though. It took too many feathers. The bed that needed new feathers the most got them.
To get the feathers, Mom had us kids herd the geese into the driveway of the barn and close the big doors. She then got a chair, sat down, and proceeded. She would take a goose, turn it on its back, put its head under her left arm and pluck the downy feathers. When finished, she would give the goose to one of us kids to put outside. This routine continued until all of the geese had been plucked. She usually kept a flock of 15 to 20. I remember one time the goose got its head turned just right and almost bit a piece out of her arm.
Spring was a time for planting. Everyone old enough had to help. I have seen Dad walk behind a walking plow all day, getting the ground ready to plant. Dad was a firm believer in "moon signs". When possible, he always planted things that matured below ground, such as potatoes, in the dark of the moon and things that matured above ground, such as green beans and tomatoes, in the light of the moon. There was more to it than that though, it had to be at a specific time during that phase of the moon. I don't remember the details.
Rail fences were common back then and he believed that if a rail fence was built in the dark of the moon it would sink into the ground but if built in the light of the moon it would stay where it was supposed to. He could predict the weather up to a point by looking at the moon. Sometimes he called it a "wet" moon, sometimes a "dry" moon. Other factors played a part but I don't remember them either. He always relied on the "Farmer's Almanac" for information. If the moon can control the tides, why not other things as well was his argument. Oren and Russell agreed with his thinking and followed his teaching. In later years pollution and other things in the atmosphere made their way a little less reliable.
There were so many things to do. I wonder, now, how everything got done. Very early in the morning Dad, and the boys when old enough, almost did a day's work before breakfast. The horses had to be fed, the cows milked, hogs fed, and many other things to be seen about. Breakfast was as big a meal as any other. Usually pie was served at breakfast the same as any other meal. With so much hard work to be done before noon, the men had to be well fed. Maybe it wasn't always what they would like to have but we ate what was available. At noontime, the dinner bell in the back yard was rung to call the men from the fields for dinner. The same was done for the evening meal. We relied on canning fresh vegetables and potatoes enough to hopefully last through the winter so it was necessary that the crops and the garden were planted.
On wash day, almost always on Monday, Mom would put on a pot of beans using the big iron dinner pot, now in my possession. Dad would make cornbread to go with the beans at suppertime. He always made the cornbread. That was the only thing that Mom had time to cook because doing the laundry was an all day job. She had to use the washboard but at a later time she had a wash machine that had to be hand-run. A handle had to be pushed back and forth to mesh with gears under the washer thus moving the agitator.
Washing clothes was quite a chore. Water was carried from the outside pump by bucketfuls, heated on the cookstove, and then put in the washer. Rinse water was also pumped, carried in by the bucketfuls and put in a tub. Clothes were run through a hand-operated wringer and then hung out to dry. If Monday was a rainy day, the clothes were hung out on Tuesday. After washing, the white clothes had to be boiled to make sure they were clean. To do this a wash boiler was filled and heated on the stove. The clothes were put in to boil and turned over now and then with a clothes pole (which might have been a broom handle rounded on the end) to make sure they all got a thorough cleaning. When the wash was finished and on the line, Mom took a bucketful of the soapy water and scrubbed the outside toilet and then rinsed it. This was done each and every washday.
There was no permanent press. Everything had to be ironed and this was a chore, too. The ironing board didn't have legs so it was supported on the backs of two chairs. The one piece "flat iron" was heated on the cook stove. Mom tested the iron by wetting her fingers and seeing if it sizzled when she touched it. She used a hot pad to pick up the iron until at a later time when she got an iron with removable handles. Then she could use one iron while another was heating.
Two and sometimes three times a week, Mom baked bread, six big loaves plus two round loaves. I can remember Oren and I coming in from school, tearing one of the round loaves in half and eating it with butter on it, sometimes without. The bread was usually still warm and very good.
Once or twice a week Mom made butter. The milk was poured into a large "milk separator" through a strainer. After standing for awhile, the cream rose to the top. This was skimmed off and kept in the "milk house" until there was enough to make butter. The milk house was a separate little building that had something resembling a rectangular shaped bathtub in it. A pipe ran from the pump to this "cooler". The "cooler" had a drain in it for water to be let out and fresh cold water added. The pipe on the pump had a wire hoop that could be attached to the pump and removed as needed. Anything perishable like milk, cream, etc. was put in suitable containers and set in the cold water. The milk house always seemed cool on the inside even on the hottest days.
When it was time to make butter, the cream was put in a "churn". The churn was a box-like container, rounded on the bottom and stood on four legs. On the front was a handle which when turned rotated the churn paddles inside, thus "beating" the cream until it turned to butter. Mom then dipped a butter-paddle into the buttermilk, bringing out the butter and putting it into a large crock. Then came the process of "working out" the excess buttermilk. She used the paddle back and forth, pouring off the milk as it left the butter. She then put the butter into a "butter printer". This was a hollow round wooden affair that had a plunger. On the plunger was a decorative design. When the printer was full of butter the plunger was pushed and a beautifully shaped exact pound of butter was ejected. Mom had the reputation of having the best butter around and was paid 10¢ a pound more than the going rate at a local meat market. People all over asked for her butter.
After the butter was removed from the churn, we usually helped ourselves to some very delicious buttermilk. Some of it was put in the milk house to use later or for the guys when they came in from work. After the buttermilk was removed, the churn was carefully washed, dried and the gears that turned the paddles were oiled as needed. Sometimes, we had buttermilk so often that we would get tired of it and put leftovers in the hog trough for the pigs. They loved it and would nudge each other away so they could have more.
Mom also occasionally made cottage cheese or, as it was called then, "clabber cheese". Milk was allowed to sour, then placed on the back of the cookstove where it stayed warm and eventually "clabbered". After this process was completed, the pieces of "clabber" were dipped from the remaining milk into a cheesecloth bag and hung on the clothesline where it dripped until completely dry. It was then placed in a large bowl or crock, crumbled into small pieces, cream added until of the desired consistency, then salted and ready to eat. It was very good and didn't last long.
I loved being outdoors, the wide open spaces, the sun, the rain, wind, and snow and the clean air. When young, I was outside most of the time. I loved all of the animals that we had, too. Dogs and cats were a part of farm life. One dog, an Airedale named Bob, stands out in my mind. For no particular reason, he was special to all of us. One day he went with the men to work as he usually did. They were working in one of the fields and had taken the horses and wagon. It was a hot day and Bob crawled under the wagon to get out of the sun. The guys didn't know he was under there and ran over him. They carried him to the house and it was easy to see he was badly hurt. We were all crushed. Everyone was crying as we tried to comfort him. His whimpering and feeble attempts to lick our hands was heart-breaking. He managed to take a few laps of water but nothing else. On the third day he died. There were other dogs but none of us ever forgot Bob.
Cats were necessary on a farm to keep down the rat population. We had several cats that, for the most part, stayed at the barn. Now and then some of them came up around the house because of mice. One day Oren and I were visiting a neighbor and when we left we each had a beautiful snow white kitten. Mine was a male and I named him Billy. As so often happens with male white cats, he was deaf. The barn cats were fed at the barn and at milking time, morning and evening, milk was put in the "cat pan", a pan used for that purpose alone. Billy soon got wise to that so he was eating at the barn and also at the house. After a few months Dad said, because of his deafness, Billy couldn't "earn his keep" so we should get rid of him. I cried and asked him to give Billy a little more time. A few days later, I saw Billy coming from the barn carrying a huge rat. I quickly called Dad. After seeing that, no more was said about getting rid of Billy. It actually appeared that Billy was trying to show Dad he could "earn his keep" by bringing the rat out in the open where it could be seen.
One summer day when I was about eight years old, I decided my kitty needed some milk. There was none in the milk house so I took a tin-cup and headed for the cow pasture. I picked a cow I knew to be gentle, squatted down to get some milk, took half of a teet. I don't know where the cow's foot landed but the next thing I knew I was on my backside about four feet from where I had been. I found out later that a cow is supposed to be approached from the right side and not the left as I had done. I took a lot of teasing about that for several days
One year when one of our sows had a litter of pigs, she had one more than she had room to feed so Mom took the "extra" to the house and bottle fed it. She kept it in a little box with a blanket for warmth. It did remarkably well and was soon going all over. Pigs are very intelligent. This one acted more like a dog than a pig and followed Mom everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Never once did he make a mess in the house, always going to the door to be let out, as Mom had taught him. We had a chair that was lower than most (Dad had cut part of the legs off to make it kid size) and Piggy, as we called him, would climb up on that chair for a nap. We all were quite fond of him.
Finally, Piggy got so big he had to be taken to the barn. Mom visited him every day and they "talked". He seemed to understand what she was saying. It was funny seeing her walking along with Piggy by her side, talking to him and he grunting back to her. Now and then, she would give him some shelled corn that she had in her apron pocket. The time finally came for Piggy to be sold. Mom couldn't bear to say goodbye and was nowhere to be seen when the truck came for him. She seemed very sad for several weeks and, now and then, I could tell that she had been crying. I'm sure she never forgot him. Mom was a true lover of animals.
We always had chickens, usually 30 to 35 hens and two or three roosters. The rooster's crowing at first light was something we were all use to and expected. It was just part of farm life. Now, when I see chickens in someone's yard or back lot, it brings back memories and a bit of nostalgia.
The chickens were all kept in the "hen house" during cold weather. They had roosting places built high off the ground and boxes filled with straw to lay their eggs in. Feed pans and pans of water were placed on the floor. Sometimes the chickens overturned the pans and sometimes the water froze. Fresh water had to be given every day because we didn't know how soon it might be overturned. On nice days the chicken house door was left open so they could get some exercise. They were fed regular chicken feed, as well as shelled corn placed in large shallow pans that were warmed in the oven and stirred occasionally. The oven door was left open so corn would not get hot, only just warm. Mom said if the corn was not warmed, after the chickens ate it the frost would come out of the corn and kill the chickens. True or not, I have no idea, but Mom firmly believed it. Egg production usually dropped off during the winter months. It was difficult to keep water for them.
In the spring, after the hens were no longer confined, they would begin to feel the maternal instinct and remain on the nest. As the eggs were gathered, one was always left so she would not get discouraged. When enough eggs were collected, about twelve to fifteen, they were placed under the hen and left to hatch. Mom liked to have eight to ten setting hens. Sometimes, in order to get "new blood" into the flock a "setting" of eggs would be traded to one of the neighbors, usually bringing new colors to the flock as well.
A few days before time for the eggs to hatch, Mom would take a pan of warm water to the nest to see how many eggs would hatch. The water had to be exactly the right temperature. The eggs dare not get chilled. She placed the eggs, a few at a time, into the water. If the egg was good, it would move in the water, sometimes slightly and sometimes vigorously. If the egg sank, it was no good and was discarded. Even if the egg did not move but remained upright it was kept. Since the hens were not all set at the same time, the eggs hatched at various times. A day or so before hatching, the chicks started breaking through the shell. This was called "pipping". We could hear the chicks making little chirping noises which we called "peeping". Sometimes Mom had to help a little bit to get them out. The hen would then take care of removing the broken shells. The first hatched chicks remained in the nest until all had hatched, usually in a couple of days. I still remember what a thrill it was to see the little golden heads sticking out from under the mother hen. I close my eyes and for a moment I can feel the softness and warmth of the tiny miracle in my hand.
After the chicks hatched, Mom tied a string to one leg of the mother hen and the other end of the string to the chicken coop. This was done so the hen could not wander away and risk losing the chicks, or worse yet, have a rat or some other varmint get some of them. Now and then a hen would steal her nest away and hatch her chickens without interference. A brooding hen, or as we called them "setting" hens, usually kept her feathers fluffed out a bit and seemed even to walk differently, making a marked clucking sound. When we spotted such a hen, we knew she had a nest somewhere. Sometimes we were able to find the nest and keep an eye on it, and sometimes, try as we might, the mother hen would outsmart us. The first we knew about it would be when she came from some unknown place proudly showing off her chicks.
We had three "banty" hens that are about a third the size of a regular hen. One day I made the mistake of picking up one of the "banty" chicks. In a flash, the mother was all over me. She scratched me, pecked me and beat me with her wings. I had scratches on my face and both arms and a feather in my mouth. Needless to say, I didn't do that again.
Chickens are dumb. On rainy days we had to herd the loose chickens and hens inside. If we didn't, they would stand in a downpour until they drowned. If we saw a storm coming we all rushed around trying to get as many as possible inside. The geese could take care of themselves. They loved the rain.
We always had chickens of various ages since the hens hatched their eggs at different times. As they grew old enough they became frying chickens, the roosters first and then the pullets. Some chicks were kept to become laying hens to replace the older laying hens. Mom felt bad when she had to kill a hen, but times were hard and they provided a good meal. In addition to using the new brood of young adults for eating, some were sold to the "Huckster" for money or in exchange for other food items.
The Huckster drove a closed-in wagon. I don't know the real name for it. In this wagon he had built-in shelves on both sides and boxes of many items placed around on the floor. Usually a space in the center just big enough for the man to move around in, was the only place that did not have grocery items. He carried many things such as cheese, spices, etc. I've forgotten most of the items he did carry. It was difficult to get to town during the week so he saved the day many times for Mom by having things she needed.
When we did shop in town, Mom would sometimes buy salt fish. This was fish kept in a salty solution in wooden buckets on the floor of the grocery. The salty solution kept the fish from spoiling. She would soak them overnight to get the salt off. They were then fried and were quite good.
Ground coffee wasn't available back then so a coffee grinder was a necessary item in the home if you liked coffee. It was Oren's and my job to grind the coffee beans each evening for next morning's coffee. We kids would also grind the grains of corn that hadn't popped when we had popcorn and if there weren't enough unpopped grains we would grind some of the popped corn. This, mixed with cream and sugar, was delicious.
The summer months were pleasant even though there were many chores to be done. The fresh lettuce, onions, radishes, etc. were a welcome change to our diet. There was cabbage, the early potatoes and tomatoes, too. The items from the garden plus fried chicken and freshly baked bread, occasionally cookies and usually some kind of pie were certainly enjoyed. Mom had a reputation for being a good cook and was famous for her fried chicken, her bread and fresh butter, plus many other things. We had lots of relatives so someone was nearly always at our house for Sunday dinner. Dishwashing was necessary but an unpleasant job. Water had to be carried from the outside pump and heated on the cook stove. By the time we got to the pans and skillets the water usually had to be emptied and fresh added. Mom made her own soap and the water was hard.
As the summer progressed, there were crops to be tended, fences to be repaired and many, many other things to be done. As I look back on it, Mom and Dad had very little time for resting. Dad usually had Sundays to rest but Mom seldom did. However, she liked having company and didn't complain.
Dad would have a field of tomatoes to be picked and hauled to the canning factory in August. We all had to pick tomatoes. Even Mom, with everything else she had to do, quite often picked tomatoes with the rest of us. She also had the job of canning 75 to 100 quarts of tomatoes. In the early days they were canned in tin cans. After the lids were put on the cans, they were sealed with sealing wax. The wax was poured around the lid edges, then smoothed out with a hot round tool to eliminate air bubbles.
Summers were not always so pleasant. Sometimes a late frost would kill the corn when it was up only a couple of inches. It had to be replanted. A bad storm with wind and hail would ruin crops. This was devastating to Dad and it meant a lean year. One year lightning struck the barn and burned it down. It took money he didn't have to rebuild. Another year his hogs were infected with cholera and died. This meant no meat for winter or else buy a hog to butcher, which he could ill afford. Once lightning struck two cows out in the field and killed them, another devastating loss. There were good years, too. This meant new shoes for school or perhaps a new article of clothing. Besides all of the other things Mom did, she made many of our clothes.
We soon began to think about school but not with the anticipation we had in the spring when school was ending. In the spring, we kids could hardly wait until it was time to shed our long underwear and go barefoot. But before we were allowed to go barefoot, we had to scout the entire place to make sure that there were no nails or pieces of broken glass to be stepped on that would cut our feet. I can still feel the excitement when Mom would say that it was okay, and how good the grass felt to my bare feet. Of course, it took a few days for our feet to toughen enough to walk on hard surfaces and the gravel road.
When the boys had to start school it was hard on Dad. They did chores before and after school but Dad carried the load. The corn had to be shucked and hauled to the Maxwell Grain Elevator to be sold. Sometimes the price was good, sometimes it wasn't. Several rows of cane were planted in the spring and this had to be cut, loaded on the wagon and hauled to the sorghum mill that was close to Maxwell. There it was made into dark brown, sweet smelling and sweet tasting sorghum molasses. It was kept in five-gallon cans and we usually had two cans to last us through the winter. Dad liked it on pumpkin pie. We all liked it on bread and butter and pancakes. Quite often, we kids made taffy. Oren was the expert and made very good candy. After the taffy was cooked just right, it was cooled enough so as not to burn our hands. We then buttered our hands slightly and pulled the taffy back and forth between us until it turned from brown to yellow and then to almost white. It was then rolled back and forth on a very clean table until rope-like and cut into approximately three-inch pieces. This sort of thing along with popping corn, which we grew, shucked and stored, was strictly a winter activity.
At harvest time of wheat and oats, the grain was cut and put into shocks by hand. One man, I don't remember his name, had a threshing machine that separated the grain from the straw. This man went from farm to farm threshing the grain. All of the farmers who were on his route followed the machine, neighbor helping neighbor. The farm where they were working that day was responsible for fixing dinner for all of the men present, usually from eight to twelve. Sometimes some of their wives came to help the hostess, sometimes not. These threshing dinners were an all day job. We started early in the morning preparing and cooking so that we would have dinner ready on time. The men washed up at the pump and dried on towels provided by Mom when at our house. In spite of the hard work, the meal was a sociable time where everyone relaxed and enjoyed themselves. They knew they would have good food at our house. After dinner, we spent most of the afternoon cleaning up and getting things together for supper.
One tale was told and it is true, I understand, from hearing the story. Rufus was seven or eight at the time. George Pope, a neighbor, grabbed Rufus' straw hat and pretended to feed it into the threshing machine. Rufus said nothing but a little later George was hit in the back with half of a brick. George didn't tease Rufus anymore.
After the threshing was finished and there was a nice new stack of fresh straw, the "straw ticks" were emptied and filled with fresh new straw. The "straw beds" were placed on slats on a bed frame and took the place of our present day box springs. The new straw made the beds quite high and were fun to get in and out of, especially if the feather beds were new also. It was always a great temptation for us kids to jump on the beds. Mom and Dad were usually tolerant of such escapades. The beds were wonderful to sleep on, so soft and warm.
Later in the fall the corn had to be shucked by hand, of course. The only aid was a "shucking peg" used to snap the ear from the stalk. The men walked and shucked two rows at a time, tossing the corn into the wagon pulled by horses.
There was haymaking. This was hard work, cutting or mowing the hay, loading it on wagons, then putting it up in the hayloft of the barn. It was fun for us kids to play in the hayloft. One time, when I was about seven, we were playing in the new hay, forgot about the time and suddenly realized the wagon with the Jacob's ladders (tall ladder-like contraptions added to the wagon to keep the hay from falling off) was gone from the driveway. We were about three feet above the permanent ladder leading from the driveway to the haymow. Oren tied a hay-rope around my waist to let me down to the ladder. I was too heavy for him so it was either let go of me or fall himself. I fell about fifteen feet and landed on one of the horse mangers. (The horse manger was a built-in box-like affair at the end of the stall, filled with hay and oats for the horses to eat.) I had the breath knocked out of me and was bruised a little but no serious injuries. I don't think Oren ever knew how he got down he was so scared. Somehow he made it and called for help.
When the weather began to get cold, a couple of big holes were dug in the back lot. They were each lined with a heavy layer of straw. Potatoes were put in one and apples in the other. Then they were covered with another layer of straw mounded up until quite high. On top of the straw, soil was piled to make it eight to twelve inches deep. This was called "burying" the potatoes and apples. Around Christmas time, a side of the mound was dug away until the apples could be reached. After the desired amount was taken out, the hole was carefully closed. Potatoes were removed as needed. When the snow was deep there was even more insurance against freezing. I don't ever remember anything freezing in these mounds. The apples were quite a treat because buying fruit in the winter was not possible way back then. By late winter, the apple skins were a little wrinkled but still good.
Butchering day was also an event. Usually one or two neighbors came to help. After the hog was killed, it was dragged through very hot water until the bristles and hair could be scraped off. Soon the skin was clean and white. It was then hung by the front legs and "gutted". After all of the insides were carefully removed, the excess fat was trimmed away and saved for lard rendering. The hams and shoulders were put aside for smoking. The sausage meat was put through a sausage grinder. Dad mixed the ground sausage in a small tub, adding salt and sage a little at a time. He would then fry a piece about the size of a half-dollar for tasting. It had to be just right. His sausage was the best I have ever tasted. The intestines were carefully cleaned and soaked in salt water. Later, using a sausage stuffer machine, the skins were stuffed with sausage and tied at intervals. It was then cut in lengths and sometimes canned, depending on the quantity. If not canned, Mom would make the sausage into cakes, fry and layer them in a crock with melted lard between the layers. When needed, the cakes were dug out and heated slowly until all of the fat was drained away. They were very good.
The hams and shoulders were hung by a hook from a rafter in the smokehouse and allowed to drain for a couple of days. Dad built a fire with hickory wood and somehow kept it burning, not with a high flame but with a smoking fire. The smoke rose upward and permeated the meat. In addition salt had to be rubbed into the meat. When Dad pronounced it "done", it was placed in cheesecloth racks or some other suitable bag and rehung. It stayed in the smokehouse until it was in danger of freezing. It was then hung in a little enclosure inside the house. Special precautions were taken to make sure dogs or some other animal could not get into the smokehouse.
Almost every part of the hog was used. "Waste not, want not" Mom said. She cooked the head bones and made headcheese. It is hard to describe the taste. Almost everyone liked it. Numerous seasonings were added while cooking. Afterward it was cooled and sliced. The liver was sliced and fried. Sometimes part of the liver was used to make liverwurst. I don't remember what other ingredients were used for this. Even the bladder was cleaned and dried, then filled with corn to make a toy to toss around, much like a beanbag.
When the lard was to be rendered, a fire was built in the barn lot and a large black kettle was hung from a tripod. The pieces of fat and meat trimmings were placed in the kettle to melt. Mom allowed nobody except herself to do this or at least she supervised. The fire had to be hot enough to cook properly but care had to be taken not to scorch the "brew". After it was pronounced done, probably an hour or so later, it was allowed to cool and was then poured into five-gallon lard cans and stored for future use.
If there was more lard than was thought to be needed, or if, by chance, some of it was less than pure white, Mom would make soap. The same process was used except a different kettle was used. It, too, had to be stirred. Lye was added, therefore the name "lye soap". After the soap was cooked enough, it was poured into large shallow pans, let set until firm, then cut into bars and stored.
I hated butchering day. First, because a hog had to be killed and also because of the smell. When I came home from school, the entire house reeked with the smell of fresh meat and it nauseated me. It would be a couple of weeks before I could eat any meat. I was the only one who seemed to be affected this way. Doing everything connected with butchering usually took about a week.
Before I reached school age, my dad drove a horse-drawn school "hack" morning and evening. By this time most of his heaviest work was finished and he managed to squeeze out enough time to do this. Although I was very young, I was allowed to tag along and I loved it. I got a lot of attention from the big kids. Another time, before I was school age, the family attended an entertainment program at the school one evening. I was scheduled to recite a verse. I got up in front of the audience and said "Rings on my fingers, slippers on my feet, I'm my daddy's darling, don't you think I'm sweet?" I don't think the audience ever realized that I had forgotten the first two lines. I still can't remember them. I got a lot of applause anyway and felt quite proud.
Finally, I got old enough to go to school. I went to Woodbine, a one-room school house and I skipped a grade. I was the only one in the first grade so I was put in with the second grade. There were only two kids in that class and when they were ready for third grade I was, too. Woodbine was the closest school to us. About a mile and half west was a school called Independence and another two miles on west was Boyd School. After my two years at Woodbine, all one-room schools were closed and everyone went to Maxwell. I had to walk to school at Woodbine and in the winter my feet and legs would almost be frozen when I got home. Mom would put a log on the opened oven door and I soon was able to get warm by propping my feet on that log.
Back when Rufus went to high school at Maxwell, transportation was unreliable and he walked the three and half miles to school a few times but, by the time Russell was ready for high school, transportation was more reliable. However, at times during heavy snows, the school hack, as it was called then, could not make it up our road so we had to either miss school or walk a quarter of a mile to the bus. Our road was north and south. Since most storms came from the west, the road would sometimes be impassable for several days because of drifting snow.
We had a baseburner for heat in the wintertime. It burned "coke" and with the isenglass windows, made a bright and cheery sight. The cook stove burned either coal or wood and kept the kitchen warm during the daytime. At night, the house would get quite chilly. Dad usually got up first, just a little before Mom and "shook the ashes down", opened the drafts and soon the baseburner was burning brightly. Using kindling that was brought in the night before, a fire was then started in the cook stove. There was no heat upstairs where the bedrooms were so, naturally, the beds were very cold. In extreme weather, Mom would warm bricks, wrap them in a towel or some other cloth and place them in our beds a half hour or so before bed time. They sure felt good to a pair of cold feet. We usually undressed behind the baseburner and raced like mad upstairs to bed.
During the winter months, Mom worked on quilts or comforters. Quilting frames were put up in the back of the living room. Good pieces of old clothes and other items were cut and sewn together to form a "block". These "blocks" were sewn together to form a pattern until large enough to fit a bed. The "top" was then fitted to a flannel back, put in the frames and tied at intervals with yarn. It seemed to me that Mom was always busy with something.
As I grew older, I became interested in crocheting. Material, usually from old clothing or anything available was cut in strips. The strips were sewn together to make long strands and rolled into balls. When I had enough balls, I would crochet a "rag rug" that was colorful and serviceable. These were put in the heavy traffic areas, saving the big carpet a lot of wear. One day I noticed Russell watching me intently. Finally he asked me if I would teach him to crochet. I was surprised at how quickly he learned and we were both very proud of his rug.
Dad was a whittler. He could take his pocketknife and a piece of wood and make most anything. One day when I was having trouble with my crochet hook he said he would make me one. A few days later he presented me with a wooden crochet hook. It was far better than any of my other ones and got a lot of use. I still have it in one of the drawers of my sewing machine.
One year in January the snow melted and left a pond on one of our fields. After it turned cold again, the pond froze and we decided to have a skating party. It was a beautiful moonlit night in February and about ten kids came. We had a wonderful evening. However, as the party was breaking up, my feet suddenly flew out from under me. I fell forward on my face and cracked the bone above my left eye. Oren immediately had me up and took me home. I was in such pain that I couldn't have made it without his help. The next morning the entire left side of my face was black and the white of my eye was totally red. I was ashamed to go to school but after a couple of days I did go. It took a couple of months for all of the discoloration to leave. I still have a little bump on the bone above the eye.
My dad was quite a storyteller. In the winter, after the evening chores were finished, we would all gather around in the living room and listen to ghost stories or tales of some escapade from his childhood. Mom would listen, too, while doing some mending. "A stitch in time, saves nine" she would say. We loved these evenings. Now and then Dad would sing to us. He had a very nice voice. I wish I could remember some of the songs.
Three-quarters of a mile by road and one-fourth mile across the field from our house was Curry's Chapel, the neighborhood church, where our whole family attended. The church was so named because there were many Currys in that area, including my mother. The land for the church was donated by a man named Bridges. I have been told he was my grandfather, although I am not positive. My mom and four of her sisters sang at various services at Curry's Chapel. Mom had a nice voice and I assume her sisters did, too. One of her sisters, Cora, sang with the Cadle Tabernacle Choir.
When I was quite young, Russell was my self-appointed keeper. When we went to town on Saturday night he made sure I was safe. On the way home, I would fall asleep and he would carry me in the house and put me to bed. One of my most pleasant memories is of Russell holding me on his lap and reading to me which he did almost every day. I called him my sweetheart.
We kids had to make our own fun. In the winter months, Mom would sew two pieces of cloth together and fill it with beans. This "bean bag" was a source of fun and games for us but an annoyance to Dad. We got all sorts of books from the Greenfield Library, usually three at a time. We all read a lot and when finished with these, we'd get three more.
Toys were a scarce item. Once in awhile we might get lucky and get something, perhaps from a relative. When I was very young, I remember a strange man would visit us now and then. For some reason, I felt a little afraid of him, probably because he was so big and he was always trying to get me to sit on his lap. I never would until one day when he came for a visit he had a big teddy bear with him, tan in color with beautiful green glass eyes. He said I could have it if I would sit on his lap. I was still a bit afraid but knew I had to have that bear, so I let him pick me up and hold me for probably three minutes. When I got down, I took the teddy bear with me and "Teddy" was my constant companion for several years. I never saw the man again. I think he moved away.
In the summertime we, and sometimes other kids in the neighborhood, played games in the evening after supper. Hide and seek was a favorite and so was cops and robbers, blind man's bluff and many others. We also played baseball, croquet and pitched horseshoes, this usually on Sunday afternoons. Dad always put up a rope swing on a big limb of the hackberry tree in front of our house. It was a huge and beautiful tree and held many memories. Sometimes we had water fights with every one getting drenched, and sometimes it was a corncob fight. A cob soaked in water was a weapon to be feared. Sometimes we had bruises to prove it. On quiet days, I loved to lie on my back in the front yard and make pictures out of the clouds. It is remarkable the things one can see in the clouds.
When I was 10, something wonderful happened. My sister Eva had a baby girl, Helen Louise, very blond with brown eyes, a striking combination. It was love at first sight and it made me very happy that when she was a year old she seemed to prefer me to everyone else. As we grew older, the bond between us grew stronger. She was the first grandchild and the whole family loved her.
Four years later Helen had a baby brother, Ralph Wayne. He had reddish brown hair and brown eyes and was a very cute little guy. He, too, was a blessing to all and as the two got a little older, it was my delight on Saturday night to take each by the hand and parade them around the streets of Greenfield to show them off. We always ended our outings by going into the drugstore for ice cream. It made their eyes shine with pleasure, thus giving me pleasure.
Regardless of the ups and downs, life on the farm was a happy, carefree time. However, one evening when I was probably twelve or thirteen I came face to face with reality. I overheard a conversation between Mom and Dad that changed my view of life. I could hear the worry and fear in their voices. It was almost harvest time and the growing season had not been a good one. The crop yield was expected to be low, the hay crop they feared would not be sufficient to feed the horses through the winter, and bills had to be paid. I went to bed that night with a fear of my own. I imagined all sorts of things and slept very little. For a couple of weeks, I could not shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. Nothing did, so eventually I put it out of my mind but my carefree attitude was gone forever.
In March of 1933 tragedy struck. Charlie, the oldest and a World War I veteran, died in the Veteran's Hospital in Indianapolis. He had returned from service with a heart problem caused by what they labeled "shell-shock". He had been in the infantry in Europe. It was a heart-breaking time for all. It was also the first time I ever saw Dad cry. Charlie was the first-born and held a special place in Mom and Dad's hearts. He was only 39 years old and left a young wife and four children. A few days after the funeral the two oldest boys were infected with measles. It didn't seem serious so they returned to their home in Osceola, Indiana. A few days later, the boys developed pneumonia. Things went from bad to worse and in June, Jimmy, the oldest, died. After a long hard fight, in December Kenny also died. The doctors managed to save the two youngest, Jerry and Rosemary. Mom and my sister Eva spent some time in Oceola to do what they could. Helen, their mother, needed all of the help and support she could get. She was a strong and remarkable woman. After so much heartbreak and so many tears, she pulled herself together and went back to teaching school. Several years later she was able to make a new life for herself and her children. We all loved her and were happy for her. She was a wonderful woman.
As the years slipped by both Mom and Dad developed health problems. Mom had stomach and kidney problems and Dad had heart and back problems. One day while unloading the wagon, something scared the horses and they lurched forward. Dad was thrown out of the wagon, landing on his shoulders and was never the same after that. Soon he developed a definite curve to his back. There were no chiropractors then and medical doctors didn't know what to do. I do know he suffered a lot. The years of hard work had begun to take their toll. Both of my parents were getting old. All of the kids had left the nest except Oren and Russell. Dad was no longer able to do hard work so they carried the load.
At one time, long before I was born, there was a neighborhood gas well. It was owned and operated by the farmers in the area. The houses were equipped with natural gas jets. I still remember the jets protruding from the wall. All one had to do for light was to turn it on and strike a match. Eventually the gas well went dry and brackets for kerosene lamps were installed. We also had free standing kerosene lamps that could be moved from one place to another. The electric company would not even consider running a line on our road for just three families. Finally in 1937, for whatever reason, the company agreed to extend the line. Dad was so excited. He had been in poor health for some time and unable to work so he thoroughly enjoyed the activity and talking to the workers. Finally, the job was finished. Dad could hardly wait until evening to "turn on the lights". It was the first and last time that he did. He died the next day.
With the passage of time, the bond between Helen and I grew stronger. We were always there for each other, if not in person, by letter or phone. Ralph, as boys do, seemed to prefer the company of boys. Then after he came home from the military, he married and moved to Indianapolis. We seldom saw each other for many years but, of course, we each knew "things" about one another from his mother, my sister.
I find myself the only living member of my immediate family, a sad and lonely place to be. On a brighter note, Helen and Ralph who are very much a part of my memories are helping me make new ones. Eight years ago I decided to move back to Indiana. I had lived in Pennsylvania for many years and after my husband was gone I had no reason to stay except for friends. Oren had lost his wife, was in poor health, and really needed me so I came "home". Sad to say we lived together less than two years.
It was wonderful living closer to Helen and her family again. I had always felt very close to her two kids, Mike and Suzanne, who now have families of their own. Helen and I have had many wonderful times together since I came home, especially the first four years. My health has slowed me down somewhat now. She has repaid me many times over for the things I did for her when she was young.
I am happy to say Ralph and I are close again. I also feel very close to his sweet wife, Millie. They have three fine boys. Helen lives fifty miles east of me and Ralph lives fifty miles west. They meet at my place as often as possible and we all have a great time.
I have come to know and love another niece, Rufus' daughter, Marcia. She, her husband Jim, and their kids, Marty and Tiffany have been wonderful to me. They are only four miles from me and it has been great being able to see them so often. Marcia has been there for me through some very difficult times. Her kindness and support means so much. Rufus' other daughter, Lois, lives in Indianapolis and she has one son.
Charlie's boy, Jerry, lives in California and has two daughters. Charlie's daughter, Rosemary, still lives in the northern part of the state. She is a very sweet person like her mother before her. She and her nice husband, Warren, mean a lot to me. They have four children. Rosemary has other relatives in town and they usually come to Greenfield twice a year. I am happy to say she always has time for me, too.
When I look back and think about the clean pollution-free air, the pure water, and the quiet way of life, when a handshake was as binding as a contract, neighbor helped neighbor, I am glad to have lived through that period of time. I remember, too, the hardships, the hard work, the good times and the bad.
I cherish the memories of my life on the farm but I am also grateful to be part of a wonderful caring family.