Saturday, February 16, 2008

Story Hour XI

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 Milk Strike - Part III

The next morning after chores and breakfast and prior to DG’s departure we had a gathering in the kitchen. A general discussion touched on the milk strike, the oat crop, selling sweet corn at Sandy Pond getting in the fire wood for winter, possibly getting a tractor, digging a new pit and moving the out-house. No decisions were made as everything kinda depended on the settling of the milk strike problem.

Jack and Dick left first as they didn’t have to horse-start the Studebaker truck. For some reason the battery was not run down. Dugal and I managed to slide out the side porch door hoping to avoid the usual words of caution and advice that came with this type of farewell. We succeeded, and went on our way looking for mischief.

The smaller kids, of course said their fare-thee-wells and received the customary orders to “Behave, and do as your mother tells you”. A quick, “Be back in three days” and he was in his car and driving out the driveway. Sally and Alex disappeared, leaving Thelma with mom to enjoy a moments silence and reflection on what needed doing first.

Dishes out of the way, mom and Thelma headed for the sweet corn patch to check the quantity and quality of the crop. There was no question but what it was time for a sweet corn selling expedition to Sandy Pond.

As soon as Jack and Dick came back to report the road blocks were still in place, they were put to work picking corn and putting it into feed bags. Mom suggested they stop at ten dozen with a couple extra ears for this first trip. Dugal and I were enlisted to each grab a basket (1/2 bu. for carrying) and get into the back of the truck. We were off!

Down the road to the Y, bearing left, across Rte.3 and heading down the road towards “The Wigwam Hotel”, the social center of Sandy pond. This was not our destination but it was the hub from which radiated the roads that the camps were built on.

Dugal and I each put a dozen ears of corn in our baskets while Jack and Dick each grabbed a half dozen ears in their hands and we started heading towards separate camps. Knocking on the doors quite frequently produced no results as many people were enjoying the water, swimming, boating or other activities.

“Hey Rod” I heard from Jack across the street, “Bring a dozen over here.”

I quickly complied as he collected the 25 cents. Returning to the truck I placed another dozen ears in my basket and went to the next camp. The lady answering the door appeared glad to see me and allowed as how she was just wishing for some nice fresh corn for supper. Collecting the quarter and putting the corn carefully in the sink I thanked her profusely and headed back to the truck.

We all arrived about the same time and determined that we were doing OK and would move the truck further up the road to the intersection. From there we took off in different directions. It took a couple of hours and several moves before we ran out of corn. Jack, as the oldest, took charge of the money, after all, $2.50 was an enormous fortune to us and we excitedly discussed the possibility of coming back the next day and maybe bringing some tomatoes too. With that thought in mind we headed for home.

We walked into the kitchen where everyone was and with a flourish, Jack presented mom with the money.
“Well, you boys did pretty good, didn’t you?” asked mom. “Tomorrow being Saturday you should do very well.” She continued, “The oat thresher was here and he is planning on threshing here on Tuesday. Your father will be back Monday so he will be here to help with the work too. Dick, I will need you to cull two hens the first thing Tuesday morning so that I can cook them for chicken and biscuits for the crew’s dinner."

"I will need you two to get stuff from the garden as I need it on Tuesday morning,” she said to Sally and Alex. “We will need a lot of food for that bunch of workers. There will be four farmers and two hired men, the thresher man and his driver, plus all of us. That adds up to about fourteen adults and two or three kids. Dick, better make that three hens. Let’s hope the weather holds good.”

Dugal and I were sent on a feedbag round up. Around the feed bins, the chicken coop, the calf pen, in front of the horse stalls, in the tool shed, by the cider press in the old barn. Any place that might have a feed bag that was cast aside and forgotten about was checked closely. We ended up with a pretty good pile on the main floor of the barn between the hay mows. Now came the dirty, dusty part of shaking then out and checking for holes.

The good sound bags were neatly placed in one pile, ready for use the ones with small holes and tears were not so neatly piled to one side. The ones that were beyond repair went into a heap for salvage. The pile of good bags was moved over by the door where they would be handy. The salvage bags were placed into one of the bags to keep them together and the bags beyond repair were stuffed into one bag and put over by the chicken coop door.

This accomplished, we wandered over to the horse stalls where Jack and Dick were checking harnesses. A broken tug strap was more than an inconvenience on thrashing day. It was down time that cost money. Tom and Jerry would be the main team on Tuesday with Babe and Elmer as back up.

The owner of the threshing rig would drive his tractor over on Monday, towing the machine and the reaper behind. Quite a parade. Once parked, the tractor was unhooked from the thresher and hooked up to the reaper and headed for the oat field. At that time, anyone that wasn’t busy doing something was expected to go to the oat field and stack the little bundles of oats into bigger bundles of oats in small pyramids to keep the seed heads off the ground and make it easier and quicker for the loaders to get loaded and headed for the machine.

The straw bay, as I recall, was to the right of the barn main floor, over the chicken coop, between the ice house and the cow barn. This arrangement gave the chickens considerable protection from the cold temperatures of our winters.

The straw was used for bedding - mixed in with the weedier hay that the cows would not eat and kept pushing aside. It was also used to mulch the strawberry plants over the winter to protect them from the winter sun during periods of thawing weather and temperature variations. This prevented premature growth which could kill the plants when the wintry weather returned. It also delayed the spring bloom which could be damaged by late frosts and make for a very short crop.

The bags for the oats were ready, the harnesses had been checked and the hay wagon was ready to go as the wheel bearings had been greased before haying season started. This brought us near to milking time so we decided to check in at the house to see what was going on there.

Mom had, of course, been to the milk house and gathered some more cream. Now I knew why she wanted 2 milk pails as she had been putting the cream into pint and quart jars and setting the jars in the milk pails which she then filled with water fresh from the well. (Ground water temperature will run around 42/44 degrees). She also had a fire going in the cook stove and you could smell vanilla as though someone were making a white cake.

Three nights in a row? Oh well, "enjoy it while you can" was the thought that seemed to pass unspoken around the room. The pails of cream and cold water were in the cool pantry of course with the door shut to keep out the heat from the stove. It was very hot in the kitchen but nothing compared to what it would be like on Tuesday, threshing day. Sally was told to keep her eyes on Alex and Thelma as mom was going to the barn to help with milking. Dugal and I had our chores to do also so away we all went.

Milking and chores went very smoothly and were done in minimal time, including dumping the skim milk into the pig’s barrel, so we drifted back towards the house. None of us were really anxious to go back into the heat but we were hungry so there wasn’t much choice.

Mom quickly cooked some potatoes and gravy, sweet corn, sliced tomatoes and cukes (not much variety but lots of it) and let the stove die down and go out. By morning it would almost be cool in the kitchen. As long as no one wanted oatmeal, eggs or coffee the stove would stay cold for a while. When we were almost through eating mom got up and went to the pantry.

We all knew what was coming so it was no surprise to see her coming out with a cake and a big bowl of whipped cream. "Dessert?” she inquired. There were two or three half hearted, yeahs, so she proceeded to dish it up. It didn’t disappear as fast this time as it had in the past couple of nights, in fact there was a small dab that was destined for the pig slop pail, Boy would they squeal for that!

There was enough hot water left in the reservoir on the stove to do dishes so they were quickly dispensed with by mom and Sally. The battery was brought in from the Studebaker truck and hooked up to the radio in time for some favorite programs “Don’t stay up too late. You all have a busy day tomorrow”, said Mom as she headed for her room with Alex and Thelma in tow.

No comments: