If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Farm Days Revisited

[NOTE: I've written about the WWII years before here and  in other posts, but Dee asked me to elaborate on life in those days, so I added some memories here, and included some from brother Don]

Our family life was vastly changed by World War Two. My dad tried to enlist after December 7, 1941, but he was turned down as being too old. He was over 45 years old and had been a sergeant in the first world war.

The war was very scary for folks who knew what a war could do and the effect it could have on people. After working many different jobs in the 1930’s, we were living in Smyrana, Georgia when the war started. I was 7 years old. Dad decided he would move us to a farm way out in the country. It was a short distance from Spartanburg, S.C.  His job was to manage a very large farm, maybe 1000 acres. It was the first time in many years that his job was not tied to playing or coaching a baseball team.

We had a nice white farmhouse with a pretty front porch and a big screened porch out back. There were several other buildings, a huge barn, and a long tractor shed among them.

As usual though, all was not perfect. The house had a really nice bathroom but because of the war, pipes were not available. We quickly learned to use an outdoor toilet. Dad would not allow my mother and me to go there after dark so we had little potties in the other wise unusable house bath.

At first, we had no running water inside the house. We had a well outside the kitchen .After having the water tested, Dad built a house over the well and finally installed a pump. Then he ran a pipe into the kitchen sink so we could get water inside though we still had to pump it into the kitchen sink. We had to heat it to bathe and wash dishes. The heavy water kettle was always on the back of the stove.

I asked my brother Don to share some of his recollections of those days: “When we first moved to the farm, we had no central heat, no a/c, no running water, no plumbing and no electricity.  We had wood stoves and wood fireplaces.  Light at night was provided by lanterns and oil lamps.  I was always cold.  We had hot water bottles in bed in winter to keep my feet somewhat warm.  Pa installed a bathtub in what would become the bathroom later and cut a hole in the floor to drain the tub onto the open ground below.  We heated big pots of water on the kitchen wood cook stove for baths.  Needless to say, short baths and sporadic occurrences.  I never did like baths in bathtubs....  Don't now.  I can tolerate showers. 

Pa built the shed over the water pump out back in order for us to take showers during the warm months.  Of course, when it was cool/cold outside, I didn't go there - I'd get cold just going and coming, much less getting wet.  We had small outside steps to get up there.  He put a big tub on top and filled it with water.  Since it was all in the sun, the sun warmed the water.  He constructed a drain line down thru the floor and attached a shower head.  We undressed and dressed inside.  We opened the drain line below to run the shower.  After each shower, we would hand pump water up to refill the tub for the next time.  No back-to-back showers.  Gravity is a good thing.”
My mother’s nice gas range was stored because of course there was no gas available out there. They bought a great big black wood burning stove that looked about like what I thought the devil must look like. I hated that stove that was either too hot or too cold, that burned me every time I had to mess with it. The fire would get too low or, if I was around, die dead just to aggravate me. I have to say the stove held up pretty good under some really hard kicks—just grinned at me, in fact. Some male person brought fire wood into the kitchen every day and placed it in a basket. The monster would gobble up the wood then die again. Washing dishes was one of my chores and just using icy well water was not allowed [unless I got caught].

Some more recollections from Don: “Sometime later, Pa had a cannery built in a field down the way from our house and barn.  We canned all kinds of fruits and vegetables in the summer.  We kept many of the cans and also gave bunches to the three owners - most likely some to the farm tenants too.  We had big vats inside to do all the cooking. 

On off days and evenings, Bobby, Pa and I went down there, filled up the vats with warm water and took baths.  For the most part, this was ok, so long as it wasn't too often.  Sanitation inspectors would have had  a big fit.  Undress and dress, then back home.  Only had to walk about two blocks to take a tub bath.  No showers.  Exciting.

All these good things reserved for men of course, no females allowed.”

Just as everything else was being used for the war effort, so were power lines. We were on a long waiting list but got by without electricity for a while. I don’t remember how long. Our farm was essentially an agri-business, feeding a good many people. It was owned by three men: Sitton, Ligon, and Ligon. One or all of them either drove out for food or Dad carried it in to them every week that it was available. Also, we had seven large tenant families who worked for wages. They got their houses free plus big garden plots. We shared seeds etc with them and they pastured their animals in the farm’s big pastures.

We had a beautiful pine dining room table that seated twelve comfortably and a big hutch cabinet. There was also about a 5 or 6 foot serving table etc. One winter, when he was off from playing ball, my dad built the dining room furniture, with the help of my brother Bobby. My parents had seen this dining room furniture in Wannermakers’ store, in Philadelphia and had fallen in love with it. It was terribly expensive so they decided to just replicate it. Mother drew pictures of each piece and Dad measured them. For seating, he built long benches for each side and they purchased large cane bottom chairs for the ends. I grew up sitting on those benches and sometimes at night lying down on one so I could stay up a little while longer. Our night meals were never finished in under an hour.

When we first moved to the farm, they placed three or four big, kerosene lamps down the center of the table. That’s where all evening activity took place. We did our homework; they read the paper; wrote letters; kept the farm books, etc. right there. We also had an open fireplace in the large dining room, for heat and light. Early in the mornings, during winter, Dad would start a roaring fire in the fireplace and we would scoot into the dining room to dress. Later when we finally got electricity, I spent many hours each day sitting in an easy chair, listening to the radio in that room. All the family listened together at night, most often to the war news. [Note for younger readers: nobody had a TV in the WWII years]

 Listening to music on the radio was where I learned all the lyrics to the popular songs. I forced myself to memorize the tunes and lyrics, then practiced singing them. Eventually, I pretty much knew all the popular songs. If there were other people in the house when I wanted to sing, I walked a long way out to the creek and down a steep hill to a spring that fed it. The acoustics were fabulous in that little hollow and I thought I could belt out my songs and no one would hear. Of course with its being in the pasture, I was often joined by cows, horses, mules, dogs etc. I did catch a cow or two looking at me strangely a few times. Guess they wondered why I hadn’t been taught to moo properly. They were my only playmates as I had no friends the entire time we lived on the farm. I still remember the songs I liked best and used them in later years when I did the USO shows. Some of them were; “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Just A Prayer Away,” “I’ll Get By,” “Always,” “The White Cliffs of Dover,” “Together” and many more. [If you’d like to hear many of these songs and more, check out this website: The Music of WWII ]

All the young doctors and dentists went to war where our service people needed them. So we were left with those willing to come out of retirement. Anything other than a dire emergency required long, long waiting periods. I recall going to a family type MD only once. This created a very scary situation for our family on one occasion. Mother stepped into a post hole and pulled all the ligaments in one knee, so of course it had to be taken to the doctor. All he did was tell her to stay off it until it healed. That knee bothered her the rest of her life.

That was not the only mishap. Don slid off a two horse wagonload of hay and the wheel rolled on his arm. Dad heard him screaming as did I. Dad lifted the entire front end of that wagon and Joe, who worked for us, pulled Don out from under it. The entire time they were working to free Don, our big, red horse stood on three legs holding up his right back leg because he’d have stepped on Don if he put it down. Later, after things calmed down and they got back from the hospital, Dad marveled at the intelligence of that big horse. I’ll hear Don’s screams the rest of my life, I suppose, my hands are shaking as I write this. I must have been about nine years old which would make Don about twelve at that time.

Dental appointments were running months behind, in the small town near us. My dad got a terrible toothache that was running him crazy, as strong and stoic as he was. Finally, he could take no more. He picked up a pair of pliers; walked a long way from the house; and pulled his own tooth. He did not drink alcohol at all and I doubt that he even had an aspirin. When he came back to the house and Mother found out what he’d done, she nearly had a nervous breakdown.

My mother was not accustomed to farm life and it was a very difficult adjustment for her. Mother had grown up in Marietta, the daughter of the man who owned the bank and lots of other businesses. She was a debutante who married a well to do, well known, baseball player, son of an extensive land owner farmer who had donated land for various churches etc. My mother was a tiny, cute, very intelligent woman, with a vast amount of energy, talented in music, etc. I doubt that she ever dreamed of being a farm wife but she made the best of it and, I think, actually enjoyed parts of it.

Farming is hard work and hurting her knee was really a blow, but when she wasn’t laid up Mother did a lot. (Remember, she was a 4’11, 120+ lbs. lady.) I don’t recall ever seeing her enter the barn, or other out buildings or, heaven forbid, harvest anything at all. She paid women from the tenant families to do the laundry and heavy cleaning. However, she cooked, did a lot of the cleaning, and had many duties.

Of course, since it was a farm there were many animals, and Mother didn’t let her size stop her from anything. She raised the chickens and turkeys from eggs to chicks to the frying pan. She killed the chickens she wanted to fry by shooting their heads off with her little shot gun. Trust me here, she didn’t waste ammo, and she didn’t miss. The yard around the house was fenced so sometimes when the grass got high, Dad would let some of the stock graze within the yard. I enjoyed seeing Mother open the back screened door and call out. Seconds later, a horse or two, maybe a cow, seven cats, two or three dogs, chickens etc would gather round for treats. The porch was several steps off the ground so she could look the big animals right in the eyes as she tossed out stale biscuits etc.

In looking back, I can see there were many good things about living on a farm, even though there were hardships, too. Dad just felt like if the US was invaded – a genuine fear shared by many Americans – that a remote farm would be a fairly safe place, and we’d have enough to eat. We got through those years and the ones that followed by the strength and perseverance of my parents and the grace of God.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My New Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are definitely not my favorite things, although I absolutely adore hearing my daughter sing the song from the Sound of Music. Just recently, a woman whose blog I much enjoy reading listed some of her favorite things and that caused me to start thinking along those lines too. Interestingly, to me at least, is the fact that my tastes have changed over the years. I’m just listing things as they come to mind so they are not in any order, at all.

Children and dogs have to be first, at any rate. No, I don’t like all of them mainly because I know I can’t have all of them. Also, the only reason to dislike a young child, under 12 or 14, for example, is lack of training and direction. Children are like baby animals that have to be civilized. It is a full time job –and no, it doesn’t take a village. It takes an adult with the common sense God gave a billy goat to hang in there and do the job. I could write a book about this.

Another favorite thing is my jar opener and paring knife. I received a jar opener from our bank in about 1971 and I carry it everywhere I know I’ll be doing some cooking. Also, I often carry a sharp paring knife in my purse. I’m delighted to help with dinner but I have little tolerance for a dull knife. When I first married, I would ask my mother in law if I could help with dinner. She would hand me a dull knife and say to peel the tomatoes. I finally stopped asking.

Eggs- cooked any way at all. Years ago my internist said they are the perfect food and I agree. They are easy to prepare, nutritious, cheap, and perfect for old people on a budget. (I have eaten them most days for the past forty years and I have never had high cholesterol, either.) Years ago, when my husband’s family was having breakfast in a restaurant, a small boy sitting nearby wanted to order by himself. Reading from the menu, he announced he’d like to order “eggs any style”. Of course, his older brothers never let him forget it, poor little guy.

The fragrances of fresh pine and a wood fire, especially during cold weather.

A good writing pen is a thing of joy, even if just writing a grocery list. Ballpoint pens are from the devil. My cursive writing is not so good anymore. It was never beautiful but was very clear. Having taught 5th grade, I found that my smallest quirk or mistake in penmanship, would be picked up immediately. Back then, I wrote on the blackboard a lot while the kids copied what I wrote. A member of our family had the most beautiful penmanship, looked almost like a picture. Only trouble was that it was nearly impossible to read. Yes, she was an artist.

Five years ago, I fell and broke both shoulders. Arthritis settled in the shoulders plus I lack full use of my left arm. Fortunately, I am right handed. The point I am making is that there are plenty of gadgets that are quite helpful, plus available. One that I use several times a day is what I call my grabber. It is less than a yard long and gives me the ability to pick up fallen objects plus reach items that are not close. I have one in my bedroom and another in the kitchen.. Coco hates it so if I snap it at her she drops whatever she has gotten into.

Another item I enjoy is a long handled hair brush that allows me to reach the back of my head. It is slightly curved, light weight, easy to clean and use. So many helpers are out there if one does a little research. The grabbers were purchased at a local drug store.

There are many favorite foods:
  • I am amazed that I no longer actually crave chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I still like it. However, I can live without it. I’m pretty much that way about all sweets, especially after a big meal.
  • Mid morning or, better still, mid afternoon is a better time for a piece of my homemade pecan pie and a cup of hot Starbucks coffee.. Mike and I agree on a couple of desserts: Flan and Tiramisu. They are not difficult to prepare but are a tiny bit time consuming.[For more on Tiramisu see here]
  • I remember my mother’s wonderful, homemade hot bisquits and I can make them nearly as good, though  I haven’t made them for ages. One of those bisquits with a little Smuckers cherry preserves is mighty good.

These days, a really good book, fiction or nonfiction, is a wonderful gift. Some years back, when we lived on a lake [a river, really] I saved the more serious books to read during winter. That way, if I was snowed in [read - over one inch of snow] I was happy as a pig in sunshine. Often, I reviewed books for the AAUW, in Knoxville and Oak Ridge, and I usually tried to talk about one fiction, one nonfiction, and one fairly lighthearted. I decided early on that talking about just one book for 45 minutes was boring to me. Also, it was very tempting to just teach the book. Actually, some of the little old ladies wanted me to teach the books. That way, they thought they could discuss the book intelligently without bothering to read it.

More than ever, these days, I enjoy staying in touch with old friends. The computer has been a major help in that regard. Sometimes the communication is just a funny or a political opinion but it allows me to touch base. Of course, we do trade letters and comments too. I’d probably never send a snail mail note with just a couple of lines – but I often send an e mail that short. Having, at my fingertips, the ability to research any subject I can think of is interesting and entertaining. Once I learned to Google, I was off and running.

Computers can be wonderful for seniors. I have two longtime friends who bought their computers about the time my kids gave me my first one. Yes, I made all kinds of mistakes, still do in fact. Every now and then, I make mistakes so bad, I have to pay someone to come fix them. But I have persevered  and received  many hours of enjoyment from my computer. One of my friends who has an MA plus years of teaching said she just couldn’t learn to use it. Now she is depressed and bored--------- and rather boring as well. The other friend, a clinical psychologist, has serious health problems and is being forced to stay home most of the time. She too is bored and depressed. She also decided learning to use her computer was too much trouble. One mistake both of these women made was to locate their computers too far away from their traffic areas. In my previous house, my computer was in my kitchen. In this house, it is in my bedroom, which is large.

For today, my last new favorite thing is actually a long time favorite thing. By thunder, my bright red lipstick just makes me feel better! When I glance in the mirror and see myself without it, I am not a happy camper. But, add the color--- and I think, the ol’ girl may be around awhile longer.