Sunday, February 10, 2008

Story Hour X

The Milk Strike - Part 2

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.

The next morning was business as usual. Jack, Dick and mom went about the business of milking and doing the other chores while Dugal and I did the chores that had been assigned to us. We also went to the ice house and dug into the cold wet sawdust until we hit a piece of ice. There wasn’t much ice left buried in the sawdust but soon the weather would be changing and turning cooler. Dugal placed the ice on a burlap feed sack and, grasping the top corners while I grabbed the bottom corners, we were able to carry the cold, slippery ice to the milk house where we placed it in the vat of water where the full milk cans were.

With the milk from this morning we would now have six cans (60 gallons) of milk. Mom came into the milk house at that point and suggested we give the hogs a treat. Pulling the can that she had taken the cream from she shrugged and told us to feed it to the pigs. “Look around and see if you can find an empty barrel with the end out. Putting the milk in the barrel will let us feed it out without wasting so much, besides we will need the space in the milk vat.”

Chores finished, we headed to the house for breakfast. During the summer we frequently had sliced bread and jam for breakfast. Hot oatmeal came with the change of seasons. Eggs were an anytime breakfast but they did require a fire in the stove and August was not the best time to light up the range. We were hoping that maybe later mom would make another whip cream cake for supper.

“Time to check things out,” exclaimed Jack. He and Dick toward the door. “Oh, by the way, isn’t DG due today?” Dick asked. Mom replied, “Yes and he won’t be very happy about this strike. Better be on our best behavior. I think he has to go right back out tomorrow so you won’t see much of him.” The radio reception had been real good last night so we knew they would have to harness Babe and Elmer to get the truck running. The screen door banged shut behind them.

“OK you guys, time to get some work done.” said mom. “First off, Dugal and Rod, I want you to bring to the house a couple of spare milk pails make sure they are clean and don’t leak. While you are in the milk house, pump some more fresh water into the milk can vat. Make sure to let it run over a little so it is as cool as can be. Later on I will get some more cream and you can dump the skim milk into the pig’s barrel. On your way back and forth, pull a few weeds out of the garden and give them to the pigs, the slops bucket has been running a little low lately. Now that we are getting new potatoes the poor piggies don’t even get potato peelings.”

With that being said she turned to Sally and informed her that she was part of the house cleaning crew, and this was window day. Alex was told to pick up any of the few toys we had and put them away also to check the porches and make sure things were neat and orderly. The older boys returned from the observation run to report no change in the strike status. Tom and Jerry were harnessed and hitched up to the riding mower for Jack while Babe and Elmer were put into service pulling Dick on the dump rake to gather scatterings around the edges of the fields.

Haying season was just about over and the oats were turning a nice golden color as they ripened under the hot summer sun. Soon it would be threshing day. As usual, Dick had his .22 caliber rifle with him just in case he spotted a woodchuck, pheasant or some other edible critter while he was up and about outdoors. DG arrived home around 2:00 in the afternoon and, after hearing the report from mom, he proceeded to bed. He had come directly home after an extended shift and had not slept in about twenty hours. It was unusually quiet around the house as it always was when DG was sleeping.

Later in the afternoon mom went to the milk house with her dipper and one of the clean pails we had found for her. Banging one of the older cans of milk open she proceeded to ladle the cream into the pail. When she had all of the easily obtained cream removed she went on to the next oldest can. When she had finished skimming the cream off that can, her pail was nearly filled with good heavy cream.

Dugal and I were nearby - engaged in some childish prank, as usual - so she called us over to where she was and instructed us to take the two cans of skim milk to the pig’s barrel and dump the milk into the barrel, being careful not to get hurt or spill the milk. We were also instructed to find an old water pail to leave by the pig pen to facilitate transferring milk to the pig’s trough. She was making sure we stayed busy that day for some reason, probably so we didn’t get into trouble. Our solution to this problem was to ask if we could go fishing down the road to the creek. She allowed that maybe that was a good idea and we could drive the cows up from the pasture on our way back at chore time. Of course we didn’t have watches but every farm boy instinctively had built-in clocks, and automatically knew meal and chore times.

Well, the fish weren’t biting but the deer flies were. There happened to be a nice pool where we were fishing so it quickly became a private swimming pool. It wasn’t very deep. It was, however, cool, wet and refreshing. By then it was time to head the cows towards the barn so we herded them together and the old lead cows knew where they were headed. The others followed along and we tagged along behind them.

The teams of horses had been unharnessed, given some oats, hay and water; they were set for the night. The cows came into the barn and most of them knew where their stanchions were. The ones that didn’t were guided by a swat on the flank and a little shove in the right direction. Once locked in their stanchions Dugal and I proceeded to give them their dipper of grain, an adequate amount of hay and each cow got as much water as she wanted. This of course entailed many trips to the milk house for water and holding the pail until each cow was satisfied. The calves were fed a mixture of milk and water and fresh hay, while the chickens gat a scattering of oats from the horse bin.

This horse oat bin contained the oats that we grew and harvested each year. Threshing day was coming up pretty quick so our supply of oats was getting low. There had been a time or two that we had run out of rolled oats in the house and had tried cooking whole oats for breakfast. Believe me, it was not an even exchange. I personally was glad to leave the oats for the horses and chickens.

It was, however, a different story with the corn meal that we fed the pigs. As far as I knew it was just ground corn, maybe a little corn cob and weed seed mixed in but when it was cooked up into corn meal mush or Johnny cake, it WAS EDIBLE and we did eat it.

Mom had outdone herself for supper. The abundance of the late summer garden was visibly displayed on the table. Boiled new potatoes with the traditional milk gravy with fried, salted pork graced the center of the table. Surrounding this was a plate of fresh sweet corn wrapped in a dish towel to keep it hot. A dish of sliced cucumbers in vinegar And a large plate of sliced tomatoes added variety. A side dish contained the tail end of the green and yellow beans. If the frosts held off they would bear another small crop.

DG was awake and grumpily joined us. He was obviously still exhausted from his long working shift. He queried Jack and Dick as to the status of the haying, asked if the oats were ripe, wanted to know the status of the milk strike. He then gave us instructions regarding the farmer who owned the threshing machine and suggested that we locate all the burlap feed sacks that we could find to hold the oats that we threshed.

Supper progressed pleasantly until everyone seemed to be content. Then mom stood up and asked if we wanted to have dessert. Silent nods answered her query in the positive. DG raised an eyebrow and gruffly asked, “Dessert, what’s this?” We all laughed as we new what was coming. “Surprise!”, said mom as she brought in the cake and whipped cream. Quietly we watched as she cut and served the cake and cream.

All eyes were on DG as he looked at his dessert and finally took a large forkful and placed it in his mouth. The unusual smile that spread across his face immediately brought cheers and laughter from all around the table. After supper was over, Sally and I helped mom do the dishes while the others pursued personal interests. There would be no radio that night so it would be an early bedtime for all. As it grew dark the kerosene lamps were lit in strategic locations. One was on the kitchen table. This was a very special lamp, an Aladdin mantel lamp. Everyone was cautioned not to look directly at the mantle as it glowed so brightly that it could hurt your eyes permanently (so they said).

3 comments:

leslie said...

This has got to be the origin of the expression, "The way to a mans heart is through his stomach."
I must ask...did you look at the Alladin lamp?

Ol Fogey Rod said...

Dear Leslie,
was there ever a child that could pass up a challenge such as this ?
Of course I looked at the lamp as did millions of other kids. In fact thay are still doing it with the Coleman mantle lanterns which are even a little brighter as they use a special fuel or "White Gas".
For a while I deluded myself into thinking I had "special" eyes.....maybe like superman ;-)
Rod

leslie said...

Hey OFR! My mother could get me to do about anything she wanted by telling me I shouldn't!
I am loving these stories.