When I was perhaps five or six years of age, I remember losing the privilege of earliest child. I remember the prior comforts of seeing others at work out in the snow and cold of mid-winter. It was such a warm, pleasant feeling watching Dad and Uncle Edwin sawing wood with a buzz saw powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine. I was standing by the east window beside the telephone. Shortly thereafter I was given the job of bringing in wood for the stoves and water from the well. I actually felt deprived.
From the Twenty’s through the Forty’s, chores were a very important part of farm life in the Midwest. They involved the children from the time they were able to do simple tasks. Farming was diversified then, meaning that not only were various crops raised, but also various, as poultry, sheep, hogs and cattle. Chores, then, were those tasks that had to be done to care for the livestock before the day’s field work could start and after it ended.
Chores for the younger members of the family included bringing wood to the porch, feeding the chickens and gathering eggs. Eggs made a slimy mess when crushed and we soon learned not to carry them in our pockets.
At age five or six, I was given the task of bringing cows from the pasture to the barn. This continued to be part of my contribution into my teen years.
Our main pasture extended nearly a mile from the barn. We drove the cattle about a quarter mile up the highway which was unpaved at the time. We boys were interested in cars and everything about them. We identified the various tread marks on the road, and we had our favorite brands. When the roads were paved and the traffic became faster, we had to avoid using the road to drive cattle. The more distant pasture lands were turned into crop land, and we established a pasture not far from the barn.
Once when my brother, Bob, and I were quite young, we were out to bring the cattle in when we heard a croaking that we thought was snakes. We ran half a mile back home without the cows. Mom told us that the noise was frogs, not snakes. I still had to convince Bob.
Louise helped with chores and field work until Merlin was old enough to take her place. From then on she became Mother’s helper, sharing with her not only work, but feminine interests as well. She took piano lessons and became quite adept as a pianist. We subscribed to Etude, a magazine of printed piano music, which encouraged her growing ability. I remember hearing her playing “Red Sails in the Sunset,” and other contemporary favorites as we did chores at the barn, which was across the highway to the south of the house. Right after graduation from high school, she was employed as a house keeper for a family in Atchison.
Herding the cows in from the pasture on Sabbath evening held a special aura of peace for me, especially during my teen years. We spent the day at church with Sabbath School, worship, then afternoon Christian Endeavor, followed by walking and talking with other youth. Then, as the Sabbath ended, I carried with me those hymns and thoughts as I approached the necessary chores upon the resumption of daily life.
As time went on, I was given more responsibility on the farm. I would run the cream separator – first a De Laval and later a Melotte (who else would remember such details?) We sold the cream and fed the skim milk to the calves and the hogs. By the time I was a teenager, we were delivering most of our milk to the Condensary in Nortonville, but we also sold whole milk and bottled some.
During my teenage years, I was designated “chore boy” during the rush field season. I would leave the field earlier to do the chores so that Dad and my brother Charles could continue with field work: planting, cultivating, harvesting wheat and oats, or whatever they were doing. I milked as many as twenty cows by hand. We bought milking machines after I went to college in Wheaton, Illinois in 1941.
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