Saturday, January 12, 2008

Story Hour - Part I

My first in a series of autobiographical stories written by my Dad, who grew up in rural Upstate New York in the 1930's & 40's. Keep in mind this is only one generation ago....

The Move

I must have been between four and five. It was late summer, a sunny day and very pleasant. I don’t remember all the details but it seems there was an awful lot of activity going on. My dad and a couple of his brothers were busily loading all our furniture, clothing, pots and pans - in fact all our worldly possessions - onto the back end of a truck. Jack and Dick were helping with the smaller stuff. Dugal and I were getting in the way of everyone. Sally and Alex were small enough that they were in a play pen or something…Leastwise I don’t recall them making a fuss.

Finally it appeared we were loaded and ready to depart. Evidently there had been a couple of previous trips and this was the moment of truth. The last load. I did not realize what was happening, I just knew it was big and exciting.

My dad, being a railroad man, called, “All Aboard”.

Well there was a scramble. I recall some discussion between my parents about my being big enough to ride on top of the load with Jack, Dick and Dugal. It was decided (by necessity) that I had to ride on top as there wasn’t room in the cab for father, mother, Sally, Alex AND ME. This made me feel quite grown up and one of the bigger boys.

I had always been something of a runt, always getting hurt, falling down, more often than not, tears and a snotty nose being my trademarks. Jack, Dick and Dugal, having been thoroughly admonished about their responsibilities of ensuring my safety hauled me to the topmost point which was a mattress, kind of covering things so they wouldn’t blow away. Tugging on ropes and pushing things around created a nest hole just big enough for me to crawl into. There was no way in hell that I could have gotten off that truck if my life had depended on it.

The journey and arrival must have been rather anti-climatic as I don’t recall much about it. I do remember being thirsty and not being able to find a water faucet in the kitchen. As a matter of fact I got a big laugh from everyone when I asked where the bathroom was.

Someone pointed towards the back yard and announced "Down the Primrose Path where the hollyhocks grow the tallest”. Of course I had no idea what they were referring to but I eventually found the old three hole outhouse. It was a little unique as it had two adult sized holes at adult level and a smaller hole at a lower level. The traditional “Sears” catalog hung off a nail centrally located. A small bag of lime in a pail sat in the corner. This was for sanitary purposes. On hot summer days it got a little fragrant and the flies would be quite numerous, so a handful of lime was scattered over the material in the pit.

I was still thirsty so I asked where the faucet was. My dad said, “Come with me”, and going to the sink he picked up a metal pail that was sitting on a raised portion of the sink. In the pail was a metal dipper (there was very little plastic around back then). We went out the side door and headed towards the road and a huge old maple tree right at the end of the driveway. There was a small square of concrete on the ground with a strange iron thing sticking up in the air. It had what looked like a spout on one side and a long iron handle near the top.

My dad hung the pail on the spout and proceeded to lift and lower the iron handle. After several manipulations of the handle I was flabbergasted to see water coming out of the spout and filling the pail. When there was adequate water in the pail the pumping was stopped and my dad took up the dipper and, filling it from the bucket, took a long satisfying drink of cold, sweet water.
Refilling the dipper, he handed it to me with a wink and said, “There's your faucet, but you have to do a little work for it” The water was delicious and so cold it almost hurt my throat. “When you get to be a little bigger”, he continued, “this will be one of your chores, keeping the water bucket full and fresh…..”


Green Bean said...

Thank you for sharing. I love hearing from folks in our parents and grandparents' generation. We have a lot of learn about how they used to live. I'm afraid we've left so much of it behind.

Wendy said...

My father grew up in rural southeastern Kentucky in a coal mining community. I would love to have him write a series of stories like this.

How interesting! Thank you for posting this ;).

leslie said...

I like the part about the water being ..."so cold it almost hurt."
Water coming directly, alive, from the ground, is a luxury.
Thanks for posting these, Erin. Thanks to you, Dad.