Sunday, February 17, 2008

Story Hour XII

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 IV

Saturday morning dawned cool, dry and clear. Milking and other chores were done in the usual manner and Dick and Jack left on the “milk run” to check the strike status.

The pigs' milk barrel had reached the proper degree of sourness and had the customary cloud of flies buzzing around it. The combination of weeds, sour milk and corn meal certainly agreed with the pigs and they were content to snooze in the shade of the cherry trees during most of the day.
The chickens were free to wander and scratch where ever they wanted. They enjoyed the concept of “free range” long before it became a fashionable term. They generally returned to the coop for their egg-laying duty but occasionally a hen would get “broody” and start a nest in some secluded corner or under a building. It was not too unusual to discover a new momma hen strutting around the barn yard with a flock of fuzz ball chicks trailing along behind her. This was good as it allowed us to cull the older, nonproductive birds for our consumption.

I do recall that on one occasion someone discovered a long forgotten nest under the corner of the old cider barn. It happened to be on a day that one of Dick’s school friends was visiting for the day. It stands to reason that a group of teenage boys and rotten eggs was a disastrous combination. After a brief but intense exchange of stinking egg missiles it was obvious that a trip to Sage creek swimming hole was mandatory. For a change this would not be a skinny-dipping swim but a washing of clothes as well. A bar of yellow laundry soap was provided by mom with the advice to not come back until they smelled a little better.

Jack and Dick pulled in around 8:30 and after reporting that it looked like the strike would be ending “soon.” We headed to the garden to pick some sweet corn for Sandy Pond. Mom had figured that if we were to sell 15 dozen it would be a good trip.

Once the corn was picked and loaded in the truck, Dugal and I with our baskets jumped into the back of the truck and away we went. We didn’t take any tomatoes as mom wanted to can as many as she possibly could. Her thinking was that a jar of tomatoes in February would be worth a lot more than a few nickels in August.

Arriving at the Wigwam, we followed the same routine that had proven itself previously and we found the people more than ready for fresh corn.

Relating this story reminds me of one of the most devastating moments in my life. It was on a corn-selling trip with DG. I had my basket with a dozen ears of corn and was acting as the delivery man for DG. He was proceeding up the road and talking with people as we went along. We sold a dozen and I went back to the truck to replenish my supply. As I started walking to catch up with him I heard a young girls voice LOUDLY calling “RODDY”, pause, "RODDY", pause, "RODDY”……… I thought I would literally die.

A nine year old BOY being called by name by a GIRL, IN PUBLIC. Embarrassed almost to tears I hurried up the road, mainly to shut her up. She was still calling as I approached her.

“Your father told me that you would bring us a dozen ears of very good fresh sweet corn, did you? My name is Joan and my father owns the Wigwam Hotel and we spend all summer here at the pond and we have a house in Pulaski where we live in the winter,” She said without stopping.

“Yes, I have your corn”, I replied, where would you like me to put it?”

“In the sink please I’ll show you where” which she did.

Trying not to be too obvious I quickly headed for the door. “Gotta go get more corn, Thank you” and I was gone.

Strangely enough, in a few more years our paths would cross again. When we moved back to Pulaski and I started school in the seventh grade I found my desk in close proximity to a girl that looked familiar. It was she, Joan Hadley, who would be my classmate for the next 5/6 years.

I never mentioned our previous meeting as I’m sure she had immediately forgotten about it. I couldn’t forget it for quite some time as my older brothers wouldn’t allow it, ”Roddy's got a girl friend” was a term I grew to hate! We were never close friends but I felt sad when I read her obituary fifty years later.

Anyhow, by two o’clock we were sold out and on our way home. Possibly we could have sold a few more dozen but there weren’t very many cottages that we didn’t call on. We were content that we had done well and mom agreed as Jack gave her the three dollars and seventy five cents.
While we had been gone mom had fired up the kitchen stove and, with Sally’s help, picked some tomatoes and proceeded to can them. The blue enamel canner held 7 Quarts per batch and there were 14 jars of tomatoes cooling on the table with seven more in the canner. While the oven was hot she had also made a cake and gathered the cream from the milk house. No surprise that night.

There was one other incident pertaining to the sweet corn selling project that had an impact on my life. I vaguely recall, slowly becoming aware that I had been sleeping or dreaming. Something was wrong. I was confused. I heard someone softly playing a guitar and a voice singing to me. My head hurt.

I was in DG’s bed. I opened my eyes and the pain intensified. My head felt as though it was wrapped in cloth and the skin was sore. Sitting in the chair, playing the guitar and singing was Ken Nicholson, our hired man. I moved and my body hurt all over. I raised my hand to my head and found that it was indeed wrapped in cloth. Ken rose and went to the kitchen door and softly said, "He’s awake.”

Ken left the room and mom, followed by all my siblings came in. They tell me, the first thing I said was, "Why did Dugal hit me?”

Mom said, "As far as we know he didn’t. Don’t you remember falling out of the truck?”

“No, I answered, what happened?”

Mom then explained that earlier that day my brothers and I had started for Sandy Pond with some corn to sell. When we reached the “Y” to Sandy Pond, either Dick didn’t slow down enough or, more likely, I was standing up without hanging on to anything and took off like a rag doll, landing on my head on the pavement. I had been unconscious for more than three hours.
They had picked me up and taken me home and Jack had immediately gone to Pulaski to get Dr. Crocker. He came right out to the farm and attended me. He cleansed my wounds and put several stitches in my left eyebrow, advised mom to keep me quiet when I woke up and left. There wasn’t much more that he could do at that time.

I still, to this day don’t remember getting up that morning or any of the events up to my regaining consciousness. I sometimes wonder if perhaps I suffered a little brain damage considering some of the stupid things I have done in my life. It took a week or two for the stitches to fall out and for all the scabs to fall off. From then on I was as “normal” as could be expected.

"As long as you boys are back early, why don’t two of you grab a couple of hoes and hill up the potatoes and the other two pull some weeds out of the rest of the garden for the pigs." suggested Mom. We figured real quick that the next time we sold corn we wouldn’t be in as big a hurry to get home.

Chore time was soon upon us and we abandoned the garden work and headed for the barn. Milking was done, the animals fed and the cows let out for night pasture. We were content that we had done a good days work as we headed in for supper.

Mom quickly prepared the usual fare and mentioned that she would be glad to see Tuesday come - in spite of all the extra work. She obviously was looking ahead to the chicken and biscuits for a change of diet. We all were too, but didn’t say anything.

Supper quietly progressed and soon it was time for mom to bring in the cake and whipped cream. No one said anything and you could almost feel the tension in the air. Milk strike, oat threshing, hot, monotonous diet, flies, endless chores and a multitude of annoyances were pushing to the surface.

The cake and cream were passed around until everyone had their serving in front of them. Thelma stuck her finger into the cream, then into her mouth and squealed with delight. It still tasted good to her. Jack, ever the instigator, took up a spoonful of whipped cream and with quick aim flipped it in Dick’s direction. His aim was good and it hit Dick right on the side of his nose.

There was, of course, instant retaliation with much shouting and flailing of arms as cake and whipped cream flew in all directions. Shrieks of laughter and shouts of joy resounded over mom’s pleas to stop. Her pleas went unheard so with no recourse she took up a handful of cake and cream and hit Jack full in the face. “So there mister, just remember, you started it,” she said with a laugh. This brought a cheer from around the table.

“I’m glad you all had fun because tomorrow you will all have to help clean up the kitchen. And I don’t want to hear any talking about this in the future.”

The worst of the mess and the dishes were taken care of and everyone washed the stickiness off their hands and faces. The tension had been broken and a feeling of relaxation and ease settled over the group. “Time for the radio” said Dick as he headed out to get the battery.


MamaBird said...

I just want to say how much I have been enjoying these installments -- and what a wonderful treasure for you all to have recorded for your family.

Burbanmom said...


I'm glad you like the stories. I have a bunch more. My Dad wrote them last year and we've been trying to convince him to produce more! (he only went up to the point where they left the farm)

What's really neat is that I also have stories dictated by my grandfather (not DG, but my Mom's Dad) who was a New York State Trooper and part of the "Rough Riders", a trick-riding horse team. I think when I run out of my Dad's stories, I'll start publishing those.

I am VERY fortunate to have these stories, as told by my family. I urge everyone to ask their family members to write down stories of their past as well. It really makes family history come alive!

leslie said...

I, too, am loving the stories.

Digging the new pit, and moving the outhouse was one of my father's first "jobs" on the farm.