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Things That We Did on The Farm

 Each time we moved to a new place, the first thing my mother would do is start digging a storm cellar and an outhouse. She was deathly afraid of tornadoes which made this activity the top thing on her priority list. I can remember she would roust everyone out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night to go to the cellar.

Dad wouldn’t go unless it really looked bad. The cellar was always cool which attracted several of Gods creatures that could not tolerate the West Texas sun. This included spiders, snakes, scorpions and a wide assortment of lizards and insects. I wonder if it might have been better to trust to luck and stay in the house with Dad. Thinking back, no one was accosted by any of these creatures. I remember one time that Dad actually came into the cellar with us. Sure thought it was bad if he was there. Twisters did hit on several occasions. I was told that on an adjacent farm that a baby was pulled from the grasp of her mother and gently deposited in a haystack some distance away. As I grew older it seemed like everyone had heard a similar story. I don’t recall ever meeting anyone that had actually witnesses such an event. I have seen corn stalks driven into the side of a barn. I do know one thing for sure, a tornado is one scary event.

I remember that Daddy would never use the outhouse. I was told that he was bitten on the butt by a black widow spider while sitting in an outhouse. I must admit they were usually rather rank places and a habitat for all sorts of creatures. When thing got real bad they would throw quick lime down the hole. This seemed to help a little. Mother would also lite paper and throw it down the hole. Not sure whether this was to drive out the creatures or the smell. When the hole became full another hole was dug. The old hole was covered up with dirt and quick lime. I bet that this was a fertile spot. During the West Texas winters’ going to the outhouse at night was one hell of an experience for a young lad. Needless to say I usually didn’t make it to the outhouse, anywhere in the dark would do. Generally, everyone had a slop jar under the bed for solving your natural need during the night. Smelled good and had to taken to the outhouse in the morning.

We had a kerosene cook stove in the kitchen when we live on “Jackson’s Place” that looked a lot like this picture. Phillips 66 would deliver kerosene and pump it into a 55 gallon drum that lay on its side with a tap in the bottom. Dad had dug a hole in the ground so that a container could be placed under the tap. There was a glass jug on the stove that would hold about a gallon of kerosene. One of my tasks was to fill the jug. This was tough in the winter. The jug had to be turned upside down in its container, a task which I was not dexterous enough to accomplish. Mother would always handle this process. The jug was then pumped up to insure enough pressure to carry the fuel to the burners.


The kitchen was a gathering place for the family. In the winter it was the only room with heat. We did have a coal-fired potbelly stove in the living room, but it was only lit at night. We would take our bath in a number 2 bath tub in the kitchen. Mother would heat water on the stove and pour

it into the tub. Since we did not have much water, it was used sparingly. More than one person would use the same water. Additional hot water was added as the temperature dropped. Needless to say this was not a daily occurrence. Usually we would bath fortnightly or when we were going visiting. It is not hard to understand why people in this time did not have the sanitation standards that we do today. Frances said that one of her teachers would threaten the students when the smell got real bad. The teacher would single out the worst culprit and deride them, which scared Frances into better sanitation. The sponge bath was her solution to this stinky problem. One wonders why we didn't die from living in these unsantitary conditions. We had a washbasin with a bar of soap in the kitchen to wash your face and hands. Mother’s lye soap was always nearby for all sorts of cleaning tasks. When everyone was clean the bath water would be poured on her garden. Nothing was wasted in our house. They say that you use everything on a pig except for the squeal. I feel that mother used it for something. The tub was then hung on the outside of the house by  a nail.

Monday was wash day. Mother had a big iron kettle in the back yard that was used to boil clothes, make soap, render fat, and make cracklings. West Texas has nothing that will burn with the notable exception of the “cow patty”. Cows do not digest much of the hay they


eat, which in due time makes a good source of fuel. When a cow took a crap the resulting effect was a paddy of about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. After setting in the West Texas sun for a period of time it would become solid and dry. A bit of judgment was needed when collecting this recycled hay, since recently deposited patties were mixed with the dryer one. Picking up the juicy patties was rather messy. Lizards in West Texas chose these cow chips as a housing development and got downright testy when you asked them to vacate their happy domicile. I was told that they were venomous, but that was probably something that they used to make me be cautious in the pasture; Texas does not have

venomous lizards. My task was to collect these cow paddies from the pasture. Mother would place these chips under the pot and start the heating the water. I would stay by the pot and tell her when the water was boiling; a task that I now realize was designed to keep me out of the way. Her first step was to cut slivers of her lye soap into the boiling water. Throwing our clothes into the boiling water, she would then use a stick like an old broomstick to poke and stir the clothes. After a lot of poking and stirring she would use the stick to transfer the clothes into a number 2 galvanized tub where a “wash board” was used to scrub the dirt out of the clothes. Some of our neighbors had a hand powered wringer to squeeze the water out of the clothes following the rinse cycle. Mother would take the clothes and twist them in her hands until most of the water was expelled. Following the rinse cycle the clothes were hung on the clothes line. She would adjust the height of the line with an old board with a vee notch cut in one end. The clothes line was placed in the notch and she would put the other end in the ground. When the wind direction changed the board would flip in the other direction. This was a rather ingenuous.

The making of her soap would take place near slaughtering time. When the cows and pigs were butchered in the fall the hard fat was trimmed from the meat. While we did not have a lot of animals, the neighbors would give us their tallow or

“taller” as mother would say. Mother would also save all the grease from frying in a can to be use for soap. She would put this fat in the kettle and start the rendering process. The tallow was cooked until the solids floated to the top. The floating pieces were called cracklings. These cracklings were scooped out and saved to eat or make corn bread. I still like cracklings but, now realize that they can’t be good for you. The remaining liquid was the soap base.

Mother later told me that when she was a small girl her mother would make her own lye. This was done by pouring water over wood ashes. The water would be drained off as lye water. Where she lived as a child in Brown County, Texas there was enough wood for this; trees were rare on the High Plains of Texas. People had to use fossil fuel like coal or kerosene for their energy needs or as mother did with cow chips. Some people would save the ashes from their fireplaces, but since we used coal and kerosene this was not an option. Therefore she had to buy a can of lye when we got to town.

She made of point of impressing on me the dangers of this operation. The can of lye was kept on a shelf that she thought I could not reach. Anyone that believes a kid can not find a way to get up on something and reach any shelf in the house probably believes in Santa Clause. Children had to fully understand that living of a farm was a dangerous environment. Many types of chemicals, machinery, animals and guns abound on farms. Some how parents must have been better communicator than parents are today. That’s not to say that no child got stomped or kicked by a cow or horse or got tangled in mechanical equipment on a farm.  Parents would tend to get your attention and outline in graphic terms the consequences of your actions. We all knew that if our actions did not kill us out right they would rectify this slight over sight or come close. If you were told that you would get a thrashing for doing something, you could bet your life that they would follow through on the threat. Today we seem to have more difficulty communicating dangers to children. Maybe we don’t get their attention first.

The soap base was then mixed with lye and boiled. I remember the mixture bubbling in the kettle with mother stirring it with a long stick. The lye would eat up the stick before long. Everything was correct when the feathers were eaten off a chicken quill. If not she would add more lye. The soap would reach a consistency that she liked, and she would kick fire away from the kettle. When hard enough she would cut out chunks with a butcher knife and store them to age. A years supply was made since the next opportunity to make more would be at slaughtering time. Her soap was tan or beige while the soap that you see today is usually white. Don’t know why this happened. Once Monday washing was dry, then came the ironing. In those day just about everything needed ironing because it was made of cotton. Granted we did wear a lot of un-ironed clothes.

Mother initially had flat irons that she would put on the stove until they were hot. There would be two or three iron on the stove heating. When one got cold she would place it on the stove and detach the handle and attach it to a hot iron. One of Daddy’s sisters later sent us a kerosene iron. My guess is that she was afraid of it and palmed it off on us. The bulb on the back was filled with kerosene and pumped up to give some pressure to vaporize the fuel. A match was then used to light the burner. It seemed to work and saved a lot of time in heating the irons. Wonder how many accidents occurred using these irons?

Chickens supplied the main stay of our diet. They were like walking grocery stores, supplying eggs and meat year around. Breakfast was eggs, biscuits, sorghum syrup, and maybe some pork if it was near slaughtering time. Mother would fry a lot of chicken, make gravy and add a few

vegetables when available. Every meal was served with biscuits or corn bread and butter. When we could not afford flour, she would make corn bread. She would at time make her own yeast, but it usually needed to be stored in a refrigerator, which we did not have. She did use sourdough yeast at times. During WW II dry yeast became available, but that was about the time we moved to Lubbock. There was always corn in the crib that was usually used to feed the animals, but could be ground up and made into corn bread. Most everything we ate was grown on the farm. Pecan pie was always in abundance at our meals. There was always syrup around the house. As I recall it was bought in a gallon pail that could be used as a lunch box; kept the ants out of the food in the field. Everybody had chickens in those days even in towns. It was a good source of food at a relatively cheap cost. They would eat anything and I mean anything including parts of the dearly departed chickens. Mother would throw the guts and other parts on the ground and they would have a feast. Things like that tends to upset people today, but was accepted without question then. Now days, if you want chicken for dinner, your biggest problem is whether you go to Kentucky Fried or Popeyes. Back when I was a kid a lot of effort went into a simple chicken dinner. To get this whole process off the ground required lining up a hen and a rooster and building them a pad called a chicken coop. Coops were fairly simple, as chickens will live in anything from boxes to old car bodies. As far as I can remember, we always had hens, but at times did not have a rooster. A rooster is not needed except when you want to raise little chickens. You always knew when mother had obtained a rooster, because they tend to get up real early and refuse to allow mankind to remain asleep. Some farmer would buy little chickens, just hatched, from the feed store. As this cost money, mother would convince the rooster to get busy and start making chickens. Not sure how many chicken we had, but we seemed to always be eating chicken and I don’t remember the yard not being cluttered with chickens pecking the ground. Maneuvering the yard without stepping in something was a task. As some hens will not set on eggs, a selection process took place until one of the hens accepted her role as a brooder hen. Assuming that snakes, chicken hawks, rats, coyotes or other disgruntled hens didn’t screw up the process, a baby chicken will start to peck a hole in the egg in around 25 days. Now you had to wait about a month or so, before they gained enough weight to eat. Now came the day of doom for one of the unsuspecting chicken. Mother had trained them to flock around for food. They would come a clucking to their demise. After a selection process that I never understood a

young chicken was grabbed around the neck and swung in a circular motion until the neck was broken. Some people would simply tie a cord around their feet and hang them on the clothes line and remove the head with a sharp knife. Others would just cut the head off and let it flop. Whatever process used resulted in a lot of flapping of their wing, which did not feel good when they hit you in the face. While the chicken was flapping around on the ground in its final death throes the water in the wash pot was checked for the right temperature. Getting the wash pot ready involved the same process of collecting cow chips as mentioned in making soap and washing clothes. Insuring that the chicken had gone to Valhalla or where ever brave chicken go, she picked it up by the feet and dunked it into the hot water to loosen the feathers. This is a very vague process, since the chicken had to be removed at the correct moment or you had a mess on your hands. Never fully understood how long was long. Later in life I had a job plucking chickens, but like when in Marines you were only told what you needed to accomplish your job. I doubt that an explanation would have been received with much enthusiasm any way. Now she would go over and kick the fire away from the wash pot and pass the chicken through the fire to remove the pin feathers. Now came the really messy part. The “innerds” as she called them were removed. The head, guts and bile were removed and fed to other chicken or the hogs. Washing off all the extraneous material that had attached itself to the body of the dearly departed chicken brought you to the final process of preparing the chicken for cooking. Legs, thighs, breasts were cut and placed into a bowl for transportation to the kitchen. Kerosene in the stove was topped off and the lard that was processed during the hog killing time was placed into a large cast iron skillet. While waiting on the lard to heat, the chicken was rolled in flour. With a lot of sputtering and splattering the chicken was placed into the hot lard. At the same time biscuits were being cooked along with beans or other vegetables. All of these activities had to all come together at the same time.

You have the chicken dinner, but what about that glass of milk and butter. All farmers had a few cows that supplied the milk and butter, but it was not as easy as going to the grocery store for a quart of pasteurized milk and a pound of butter. Someone had to take the cows to the pasture so that they could get food. At night it was necessary to go get the cows and bring them to the barn. In the winter hay was stored in the barn to be used when the vegetation was gone. Next someone had to sit down by the cow and start pulling on her tits until you got a bucket of milk. Some farmers had separators to separate the cream from the milk, but we used

gravity because it was free. Mother would store the cream in the coolest place she could find, waiting until she had enough to make butter. The thick sour mixture was strained off and put into a wooden churn. This piece of wood was among my worst enemies because I had to pump the handle up and down until it became butter. Mother would look in the churn form time to time and then tell me to keep pumping. This process would take anywhere from 30 minutes to forever. I must admit that I liked butter on my biscuits and the buttermilk was great otherwise I might have run away from home around butter making time. After she worked the buttermilk out of the butter it was put into a butter mold.

What about the vegetables. Mother always had a garden, even after we moved to town. She grew potatoes, tomatoes, bean, corn, and squash. During the growing season there was more food than could be eaten, so she broke out her pressure cooker and started canning. That metal monster scared the crap out of me. Several stories circulated around about them exploding with various degrees of bodily damage. A lot of the farmers would grow food and offer her a percentage to can it for them. These projects were an all hands evolution. Bean would be scattered over a tarp on the ground. Everyone would bring chairs and bowls and sit down and start snapping or shelling the beans or shucking the corn. I remember a lot of storied being told while people would work. It is a sad situation that I can’t remember these stories, but the younger generation never listens to their elders.

We would eat cured meats like bacon, sausages, and beef. Mother would cure the meat by using salt, sugar and saltpeter while the Germans would use a smoke house. I thought the Germans had the right idea plus the smell was great. Every so often we would get a smoked ham from them that was out of this world. Curing was necessary because of the lack of refrigeration even among the richer farmers. When the meat was cured, Dad would put it in an toe sack, burlap bag, and secure the sack with string. He had a pulley nailed to the top of the windmill that was used to hoist the toe sack to the top of the windmill. This kept the rats and ants eating the meat. When Mother wanted some meat for dinner, Dad would pull the toe sack down and cut off a piece.

Well that pretty much explains how our simple meals of chicken, biscuits and a few vegetables got on the table. When someone complains about having to cook dinner, they should think about how it was done in the "good old days".

Now that a filling meal had been consumed, everyone could relax and watch television. Not hardly. Someone had to clean the table and put all the scraps in a bucket to take outside for the animals. Water had to be heated on the stove to wash the dishes. After washing the dishes they had to be wiper and put in the cupboard. Now everyone could relax. Yeah. The lamps had to be cleaned of soot from the prior day. Don’t forget that a trip into the night was necessary to get kerosene to fill the lamps and the stove. Yes, out to the barn to insure that the animals had food and were ok. Now you could relax and work on mending clothes, harness or something else requiring repairs. We didn’t get a radio until 1943 so there wasn’t much you could do but work until it was time to go to bed. Generally, bed time was around 8 pm. Everybody was up the next day by around 5 am to meet another day of leisure on a farm. The life of a farmer in these days was rather harsh, of course that does not explain anything. My opinion is that the only way that it could be understood was to have lived it. The life of a woman on the farm was almost like slavery if you applied todays standards to it. That is not to say that the life of the man was much better. He would work in the field from before the sun came up until late into the night. This was work that would actually make your back ache for relief. Why did they do it? There was no options. You either did this or you starved to death. I am not a liberal, but there is a great need for compassion for the people that break their back just to feed their family, yet fall short. I can not relate to the feeling that must accompany the utter humililation of knowing that you have failed your family. I thank God that I never had to experience the crushing feeling of not being able to give your family the basic necessities. I often wonder what my father thought about how he provided for his family. I am nothing but completely estatic that I could provide for my family in a manner much better that my parents did for us. I believe that things like the Lafayette Community Health Center is an example of something that all people should do to give back to those that are less fortunate. For the Grace of God There Go I.

Chapter 1 My Way of Thinking
Chapter 2 My Father and Mother Became Sharecroppers
Chapter 3 Conception to Awareness
Chapter 4 Now I Know That I Remember -- I Think
Chapter 5 Things That We Did on The Farm
Chapter 6 Life on Jackson's Place
Chapter 7 My Education Begins
Chapter 8 Life on the Farm
Chapter 9 Move to the Metropolis of Lubbock, Texas
Chapter 10 Marines

Chapter 11 College and New Orleans
Chapter 12 Indonesia

Chapter 13 Bahrain
Chapter 14 Scotland