Chapter 7 – The Milk Strike
In 1939 in New York State there were several ongoing Milk Strikes. Small farms such as ours were being forced out of business by the low price of raw milk. The D.F.U. (Dairy Farmers Union) had tried bargaining with the likes of Sheffield, Dairyman’s league and others to no avail. The alternative? The milk strike.
It was not a pretty picture. Daily confrontations occurred between striking dairymen and non-union farmers trying to get their milk to the processor. The ditches beside the roads were filled with milk as it was unloaded from the trucks and unceremoniously dumped. This was accompanied by much shouting and swearing along with threats of violence and gave birth to long lasting feuds between formerly friendly neighbors.
I happened to be with Jack and Dick one morning on the milk run. This was after we had acquired the Studebaker truck and we would haul our own milk to the milk plant in Pulaski. This came about because Jack and Dick obviously enjoyed the morning ride.
Once the truck was horse started (a dead battery for some reason or another), the milk cans were loaded onto the truck and covered with a tarp to keep the direct sun from heating up the milk. We were then on our way.
About three miles from Pulaski is the intersection of Maltby Road and North Road. As we approached, it was obvious from the number of cars and trucks that we had run into a milk strike road block. There was no place to turn around so we were kinda trapped with no other option but to let it play out as it would.
When we could move ahead we did, until we were faced by several grim faced, angry, union member farmers. When asked if we were DFU members our answer was no. Although DG was a staunch member of the “Brotherhood” (Railroad Union) he had not joined the DFU, for one reason or another.
“Stay where you are boys”, the man on the driver’s side admonished as he nodded to 3 or 4 other farmers who immediately went onto action. The tarp was not too carefully removed from our load and cast aside. The 4 cans of milk were passed over the side of the truck and set upon the road side. The covers were knocked loose lifted off and the cans pushed over by a farmers work shoe.
Now, 4 cans of milk is not a real big deal but when it represents many long hours of hard work invested to produce it, a person gets feeling pretty sick to watch it dumped on the ground. The cans were drained, the cover put back on and loaded back on the truck. The tarp was tossed on top of the milk cans.
“I hope we don’t see you boys tomorrow”, said the farmer as he walked away. “You just might see us anyhow” said Dick with a certain tone of defiance in his voice.
When we got turned around and headed back home we pulled over to the side of the road to re-position and secure the cans and tarp. This accomplished, we continued our trip home via alternate routes to check on road blocks. They were there. Every road leading to Pulaski was covered. We would not be shipping any milk while they were there.
Our arrival home was a non-event until we ended up in the kitchen for a war council meeting with mom. In DG’s absence she was the one to make whatever decision we were forced to make. We were faced with several facts that had to be considered.
The cows had to be milked night and morning. We had very limited storage space with only a little ice remaining in the ice house. Without shipping the milk our small income would be seriously diminished. There was no doubt that a prolonged strike would be disastrous for us. There were no other routes that were not also blocked. It appeared that our decision was made for us. Do the chores and milking in the normal manner and keep the milk in the cooling vat (it would hold 6 cans of milk). After chores in the morning, Jack and Dick would make a quick run up to Maltby road to see if the DFU was active. If they were there it was assumed that the other roads were covered too. The next morning, chores done, it was Dugal’s turn to ride along on the milk run (minus the milk).
After a quick breakfast, the three boys got the truck started (dead battery again) and left on the reconnaissance run. Sure enough from a distance they could see the cluster of vehicles and people. The activity was much more subdued as many farmers were employing the same tactics we were. After a few howdys and exchanges of short conversations the boys turned around and headed for home and a day to be spent in the hay field.
At some point during the late afternoon mom went out towards the milk house with a long dipper and a large glass jar. She knew of course which can had been there the longest time. Grabbing a spare can cover she proceeded to bang the cover on the full can in an upward manner, thus loosening it for easy removal. Once the cover was out of the way, she could reach in with the dipper and bring out dippers full of sweet cream that had risen to the top over night.
She quickly filled the large glass jar and replaced the milk can cover, giving it a couple of whacks with the spare cover to ensure it was sealed. This done, she headed back to the house with her treasure. She had already baked a plain white cake from scratch ingredients (no mixes available back then) which was now cooling in the pantry.
Supper that night consisted of boiled potatoes, milk gravy, canned tomatoes and home made white bread. The gravy was liberally filled with pieces of salted side pork which had been freshened and browned in the skillet before the gravy ingredients were added. All in all, a very filling and satisfying supper.
“Before you all go running off, I’ve got a treat for you” said mom as she headed for the pantry and returned with the cake and a huge bowl of whipped cream (real, hand beaten, fresh cream). There was a moment or two of silence as the picture was absorbed by seven pairs of blue eyes, staring in utter disbelief. Never before had any of them seen such a sight.
“Would anyone like some?” asked mom and the reply was a resounding “ME, I WANT SOME” from seven voices, almost in unison.
As each piece of cake was placed on a plate, a huge dollop of whipped cream was plopped on top. “No starting ’til we are all served” said mom. So we waited until even Thelma, who was about two, had hers put in front of her and immediately got some in her fingers and thus to her mouth. After a little squeal of delight from Thelma there was more or less silence except for the sound made by silverware in contact with plates.
There was even enough for small servings of seconds. With no refrigeration it would not keep so as mom said, “You little piggy’s might better eat it than the pigs out by the barn and if this strike lasts very long, they are going to have all the milk they want.”
Everyone went to bed that night with a full tummy and the thought that maybe this milk strike isn’t as bad as we all thought.
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 burlap feed sack and grasping the top corners while I grabbed the bottom corners enabled us 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 or 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 any anytime breakfast but they did require a fire in the stove and August was not the best time to fire 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 started out 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 thing. 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 wood chuck, pheasant or some other edible critter while he was up and about out doors
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 18-20 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 got 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.
At this point the farmer who owned the combine and threshing machine would kind of take over the scheduling of the oat harvest, and as each farm in the group was declared to be ready to harvest their oats, the tractor, harvester and threshing machine would be moved to that farm. On the appointed day the farmers in the group would all show up with teams and wagons, pitch forks and hired men to all work together getting the oats done. It was the task of the farmer’s wife to prepare dinner for this bunch of hot, sweaty and dusty and VERY HUNGRY MEN. (..more on this later..)
Supper progressed pleasantly until everyone seemed to be content when mom stood up and asked if we wanted to have desert. Silent nods answered her query in the positive. DG raised an eyebrow and gruffly asked, “Desert, what’s this?” We all laughed as we new what was coming.
“Surprise”, said mom as she brought in the cake and whip cream. Quietly we watched as she cut and served the cake and cream. All eyes were on DG as he looked at his desert 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. Everyone was cautioned not to look directly at the mantle (Aladdin mantle lamp) as it glowed so brightly that it could hurt your eyes permanently (so they said).
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 advise 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 wye, 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 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 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. “Desert?” 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.
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 pig’s 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. It stands to reason that the combination of teen age boys and rotten eggs were 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 into 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.
Author’s Note: 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, “Roddys 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.
By two o’clock we were sold out and on our way home. Possibly we could have sold a few more dozen but there wasn’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 can held 7 Quarts per batch and there were 14 jars of tomatoes cooling on the table with seven more in the can. While the oven was hot, she had also made a cake and gathered the cream from the milk house. No surprise that night.
Author’s Note: 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. 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 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.
Everyone was up early the next morning. It was Sunday but on a farm with animals it is just like any other day. A Cold breakfast was eaten and Dick and Jack got the Studebaker running and went to check the road block. They were back very shortly to tell us that the road block was not there. A brief discussion with mom and they headed for the milk house to get the milk from the previous evening and the milk from the mornings milking.
Covering the milk cans with the tarp and hearing a few words of caution from mom they headed up the hill towards Pulaski. They encountered no difficulties and found they didn’t have to wait in line at the milk plant.
“I guess you boys got the word early, eh?” queried the milk tester as he knocked the can covers loose. Not waiting for an answer he sniffed each can for odors, then stirred the milk with a long metal paddle and dippered a small sample to test for butterfat content.
These procedures out of the way he dumped the milk which had been weighed into the refrigerated holding tank and placed the cans and covers upside down on the can washer conveyor. In the meantime the tester had done the butterfat test and gave the receipt to Jack.
The receipt had all the information on it: date, time, farmer’s name, weight of milk and butterfat content. Moving the truck to the washer can discharge there was a short wait until the cans came out. It was advisable to wait a few minutes before grabbing the cans as they had just come out of a sterilizing steam bath and were very hot. Cans loaded and covered with the tied down tarp they were on their way back home. THE STRIKE WAS OVER.
Arriving at the farm they went right to the milk house and unloaded the cans and then went back to the house. “Strike’s over!” they shouted as they walked into the kitchen.
Mom and Sally were canning tomatoes again so of course the kitchen was very hot. Extra pans held water heating on the stove for cleaning the kitchen. “Well I’m certainly glad to hear that” exclaimed mom. “Now we can clean the kitchen and get ready for the threshing crew on Tuesday. We will however have cake and cream one more time on Monday night when your father comes home. I think the cream I have in the pantry will hold another day if we keep changing the water so it stays cold.”
Every one grabbed some rags and using yellow laundry soap proceeded to wipe down the table, chairs, the wall behind the table and the door casing leading into DG’s room. That was the last place you would want to leave a sticky gob of whipped cream. Dick picked up a mop and dunked it in a pan of hot soapy water and started sloshing it around on the floor. No need to worry about finished hardwood flooring in this old house. Plain old yellow pine boards, tightly nailed, served the purpose quite nicely, thank you. It wasn’t long before mom looked around with a pleased look on her face and allowed as how we had done a good job.
Alex picked up a damp cloth and carefully removing the chimney from the lamp, wiped off a smear of cream and cake crumbs and handed it to mom to put it back on the lamp. For a little guy he was pretty smart. Mom looked at the lamp chimney and taking a small piece of newspaper from the kindling box proceeded to wipe the inside of the glass. For some reason everyone said that newspaper was the very best for cleaning soot from lamp chimneys. There was usually a newspaper that DG brought home with him, by the wood stove, to be used for starting a fire.
Dick told mom that he was going up to the woodlot to look for trees for the winter’s firewood. He would prefer to find standing dead hardwood trees that had not started getting punky yet, but we kept them culled out on a regular basis. The next best was a split crotch or half broken trunk, or a blown down tree with most of its roots in the air.
What we were actually doing was house keeping in the wood lot and keeping our woods in good order. When one uses wood for fuel it warms you many times over; when you cut and split it, stacked it in the wood shed, carried it in to the stove and when you took the ashes out. A plus was the fact that it cooked your food too.
Dick had brought along his 22 rifle with the idea that maybe we would have something besides pork belly and milk gravy for supper. Silently moving deeper into the woods, he knew where there was a group of beech trees that would be heavily laden with beech nuts. As he approached the gray trees he could see several fat gray squirrels scampering from branch to branch. Their cheeks bulging with the nuts they were secreting in various crevices and holes in the trees. Some they buried in the leaves covering the ground. These locations were frequently forgotten about and after the snow and cold of winter, the return of the spring sun shining through the leafless trees warmed the earth. The small seeds would sprout and ensure the beech trees would continue the cycle as nature intended.
The squirrel activity ceased as they noticed the stranger in their midst. Sitting quietly on a stump, Dick waited. He knew that it wouldn’t take long for the creatures to ignore him and resort to their previous activity, which they soon did.
As Dick sat there waiting for the opportunity to make a “one shot clean kill” he thought about the squirrels as a family group, hard at work, laying in their winter’s supply of food (much as we were). Plus the fact that one, two or even three squirrels would not be enough meat for our hungry family. Taking more than that from this group would mean the others might have a hard time making it through the winter.
As an added inducement not to shoot he thought about the costs of the ammunition in relation to the meat provided per shot. It seems he had a bit of Scots frugality in his blood too. This decided he stood up, the squirrels froze momentarily and he quietly moved away from the beech grove.
At the edge of the woods he paused and looked out over the meadow where the hay had recently been mowed, raked and transported to the barn. Woodchucks were a different matter than squirrels. They were bigger meaning more meat per shot and what was worse they dug burrows in the hay fields, thus they were considered varmints or undesirable.
The problem came about if a horse stepped into a chuck hole and broke a leg. This was indeed a disaster as it usually meant the horse had to be destroyed. Standing in the shade looking out into the bright sunlight made it easy to spot a dark shape in the stubble of the field.
Holding his rifle in the ready position he gave a short sharp whistle. Immediately the chuck sat up and looked around for just a split second. That’s all it took. Dick had his “one shot clean kill.”
He knew without even walking over to look the chuck was dead from a bullet in its brain. After replacing the spent shell, he waited for a couple of minutes to see if another curious chuck would pop up. Sure enough about 30 feet beyond the first chuck hole was a slight movement in the stubble.
Dick stood with nothing moving but his eyes, calculating the distance, no wind to allow for, no appreciable drop because of distance. These thoughts went through his head automatically. After a moment the chuck lifted its head for a quick peek. Dick was still standing in the shade of the woods and the chuck being in bright sunshine could not see him. Seeing no reason for alarm the chuck stood up on his hind legs, which proved fatal. “two for two” thought Dick … “Not bad,”
Quickly he walked to the nearer animal, laid his rifle on the ground and pulled out his jack-knife which he always kept sharp. With one quick slice he opened the animal and removed the viscera. From another pocket came a short length of baler twine which he used to tie the hind legs together.
Picking up his rifle and the chuck, he headed towards the other one to repeat the evisceration. The offal was left on the stubble as a treat for a bird of prey or a hungry fox prowling the night. Now that he had something to show for his time he hurried back towards the house.
Hanging the chucks by the back door of the woodshed he went into the house to wash his hands and jack-knife. The kitchen was hot as the canning session was still going full blast. “I’ve got supper. Two young chucks …” Dick told mom. “That’s great”, said mom. “Get them skinned out real quick so I can par-boil them a bit, and be sure to get the glands out from under the legs.”
Dick of course knew about the glands but said nothing as he headed out to skin the animals. Having done this job many times before it did not take long to prepare them to mom’s orders and deliver them to her in the kitchen. She had already sent Sally to the garden for three nice onions which would go into the pot with a little salt to parboil the meat. The parboiling tenderized the meat and the onions added a little flavor.
Jack had, in the meantime, carefully mowed around the house, along the sides of the road for a distance on both sides of the house, the front lawn and around the barn buildings to reduce the danger of fire. This had made the farm look a little neater and also took some of the energy out of Tom and Jerry. If they were idle too many days in a row the got a little edgy and more apt to run away. He wanted them to be not too frisky on Tuesday so we would find some more “look busy” work for Monday.
They had been unharnessed and put back in their stalls with a handful of oats and a bucket of water. Dugal and I had gone down the lane “exploring” with the idea that we would drive the cows up for milking when it was time. This also kept us out of trouble and avoided work assignments.
Next to the cow’s lane to the pasture, this year we had planted field corn. This needed to be checked out. Neither one of us could reach the top of the corn plants nor the ears that were forming up were fat and heavy, by the time we had gone in four or five rows there was nothing to be seen in any direction but CORN.
“A guy could get lost in here and wander around in circles forever” allowed Dugal,
I had a suspicion he was leading me on so I replied, “If he had any sense at all he would know that if he stayed in one row and kept walking he would either come out by the house or on the other end he would be at the pasture. If he kept walking across the rows he would be at the far meadow or at the cow’s lane.”
I was walking ahead of Dugal as this exchange took place and I suddenly felt a corn stalk thump me over the head. “CORN WAR, RETALIATION!”
Grabbing a large ear of corn I snapped it off the stalk and whooping like a wild Indian I charged at Dugal swinging that ear of corn like a war club. I think this took him by surprise because usually I would have started bawling and headed for the house. He immediately started running away with me in hot pursuit.
All of a sudden I dropped the corn and started laughing. He stopped running and started laughing too. It was a good thing I hadn’t hit him with that ear of corn as I would have knocked him sillier than he already was.
By now I could hear a cow bell clanging in the distance which meant the cows were smarter than us and were headed towards the barn on their own We fell in behind them, after taking a quick count to make sure they were all there.
Once the cows were locked in their stanchions and the milking started Dugal and I quickly started our chores. Grain hay and water for all the cows, calves, horses, chickens and pigs. The sour milk would be coming to an end in a day or so but we didn’t tell them that.
When we finished we went into the milking barn where mom instructed us to help Jack and Dick finish up on the chores as she had some stuff to do in the house. We scattered some fresh bedding for the cows and did a couple more odd jobs and headed for the house. Dick drove the Studebaker up to the house so the battery would be handy later on.
When we walked into the kitchen it was hot but it smelled different too. The big black iron skillet was on the stove and the smell of hot lard was noticeable. Potatoes were boiling and corn ears were steaming in their pot. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers were already on the table. Mom was busily dusting the parboiled pieces of wood-chuck with salt, pepper and flour. Carefully she placed the pieces of meat into the hot lard where they sizzled and popped. OH, did that smell good. When the last piece reached the proper degree of doneness and was the right crisp brown color she announced, “Let’s eat”. And so we did.
It was good! After too many days of side pork and milk gravy we were all ready for a change of diet. These chucks were young and tender and the parboiling with the onions didn’t hurt at all. In fact the beef like taste of the meat was complimented by the oniony flavor. This was by far the best meal we shared in a long time.
“Three cheers for dead-eye Dick,” said Jack as he reached for another piece of meat. Six year old Alex immediately jumped up from his chair, raised his arm in the air and shouted (quite loudly), “YAY! YAY! YAY!” Everyone laughed and Dick turned bright red and smiled, obviously proud of his accomplishment.
There was no whipped cream cake for desert that night. Dishes were done and things picked up and put away. The radio was hooked up and everyone settled down for a quiet night’s entertainment.