Saturday, April 23, 2005

SEARCY ’46-’56 – Part 06

Chapter Three - 1

Tom Pry

Day-to-Day – The 40’s

Once we’d cleaned the outbuildings, mowed the grass, and taken care of some orange and black salad-dish-sized spiders that lived around there, life started settling into a routine, varying just slightly from one day to the next.

Grandad bought three horses, a trained team (Dick & Dan) and a small single (Shorty). He also bought a cow and, in buying her, he started showing a strange sort of talent: as it developed over the years, he could look at someone’s bag of bones cow, ribs showing through the skin, and tell which ones had the potential to be really good milk producers, given food and love. This first cow, Heart (so-named because of a blaze on her face), became the progenitor of a line that included a couple of cows that, in terms of milk produced, outdid the national champions.

He also got a pregnant brood sow – momma pig, to you city slickers. Thus, shortly we had a bunch of pigs.

The day was structured around all those critters. Coffee/tea and piles of buttered toast early (VERY early, like 4:30 am), then chase the cows in, feed them, milk them, turn ‘em into whichever pasture they were going to be in that day.

By that time, Billie had a full breakfast going. Eat that and then go off to the chore of the day while Billie separated the milk.

Now, that sounds like a strange statement, “separated” the milk. Into what? Into cream and skim milk (you didn’t think it was the difference between milk from fat cows and skinny cows, did you?). It was an arduous physical task, using a machine, a DeLaval Separator. This sat on its own stand in the kitchen. When it was assembled, the bowl on top of it would come to about the chest of the average person.

Billie (Granma) was the Designated Separator. This meant that, twice a day, she had to assemble the machine, and pour the milk into the large stainless steel bowl on top of it. Placing a bucket carefully under one spout, and a cream can (5 gallon) under the other, she started turning the crank. This was not as easy as it sounds, because it turned a heavy flywheel via some multiplier gears that really spun that sucker and the flat, horizontal plates attached to it.

At each revolution of the handle, a “ding” was heard. Turn faster and faster and, when you were finally turning it fast enough for the ding to disappear, you were ready to turn the valve on top of the bowl, letting the milk in to drop on the plates, with centrifugal force sending the milk in one direction, the cream in another.

Then take the machine totally apart into its component pieces and clean the living hell out of it.

Billie did this twice a day from 1946 until they finally went into a Grade A dairy operation around 1953.

Anyway, the cream can was sealed and, twice a week, was carried to a pickup point over at Morning Sun (just south of Searcy) for shipment to a butter factory. The skim milk was kept in buckets in the backroom, and into it went all the food scraps. Didn’t matter what it was: apple or potato peelings (or both), leftover whatevers, which Grandad would haul out to the pig pen. On his way out, he’d give his food call which, with his perverse sense of humor, consisted of loudly calling “PORK .. CHOP!” and the not-so-little suckers would come running as the slop was poured into the trough.

Pigs are not picky eaters (“They’re not persnickety,” as Billie would say).

We grew our own potatoes. You “break” (plow) the ground and drop pieces of potato in the resultant grooves, making sure there’s an “eye” on each piece. You harrow the ground down flat. When they’re ripe, you plow them up (they grow underground), shake off the dirt and break off the stems. Then store in a cool place. We spread ours under an oak tree near the house. (That tree still stands, now in somebody’s front yard).

Didn’t know that, did you? Bet you thought potatoes grew in plastic bags at Wal-Mart.

In later years, Billie had her “truck patch,” what most people would call a vegetable garden. A few rows of “roas’n’ ears” (corn), maybe a row of popcorn, snap beans, etc. We ate damn good out of all that, especially when Grandad bought the old Anspaugh place (which eventually became our home after my parents got down here from Chicago) and put in an acre of strawberries. Those little red berries are an interesting crop to cultivate. They’re a pain in the lower regions to plant but, after that, except for picking them, they’re pretty painless for about four years .. IF you have a few geese.


Geese have two outstanding characteristics: first, they’re REALLY bad-tempered, especially the ganders. Secondly, they hate strawberries. Won’t touch either the fruit or the plant … but they’ll munch every bit of grass and weeds that grows anywhere near them. So, you plant the strawberries, put in the geese, pick and eat the strawberries (with the occasional physically AND emotionally-satisfying holiday meal of roast goose). Every four years, you must carefully dig up and store each strawberry plant while you re-plow the ground, fertilize, and then equally-carefully re-plant the plants.

In that first year, I had three main chores, besides going to school. Twice a day, to the chicken house to “pick” the eggs. Carry the water, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. When Grandad bought that place, he inherited a natural spring (which is still seeping today, feeding a small creek that forms the back boundary line of our present home). It was about 40 yards behind the house. Now, remember, I was eight years old by now, but not all that big for my age. Several times a day, I’d walk out there, pull off the wooden cover, fill my buckets by just reaching in and dipping them, put the cover back on, and lurch back to the house.

Yes, “lurch.” Two galvanized buckets full of water represent a considerable load, and I quickly found that I was better off carrying two than one. Carry one bucket, and you were tilted to one side like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lugging two buckets meant you lurched, rather like Frankenstein, but at least you were upright.

The third standing chore: getting the mail. Again, not as simple as it sounds, since the mail boxes for all three homes on the non-county road were located all the way down at the corner of what is now Collins and North Valley. From Grandad’s house, that was a hair under a half-mile by the road, very slightly shorter if you cut diagonally across the field.

And the same distance back.

In those days, you never knew what was going to come in the mail – including LIVE baby chicks (which can, incidentally, still be sent via the USPS), seeds .. whatever you needed to run the farm. Our store was in catalogs, especially Sears and Montgomery Wards (or, as we called it, “Monkey Wards”). Once they’d outlived their usefulness, they moved to the outhouse, where they provided educational material (I learned a lot about female anatomy out of those catalogs, plus how corsets worked), and toilet paper.

Roll paper was a perishable luxury.

(At that, we were lucky. One of the novelties being sold at hillbilly-oriented tourist stops were small boxes with glass fronts. Inside the boxes were three small corn cobs: a red, a white, another red. The directions said, “For Emergency Use Only. Break glass, use red cob, then use white cob to see if you need the other red cob.” I am not making this up: some places, that was not that far from the truth. Very little went to waste on a farm).

(Series originally published late 2003/early 2004 on the old site).


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