I spoke with my Grandma today. I have always enjoyed hearing about her life and childhood. Ever since Dustin and I started homesteading I've been even more interested in what she remembers of her own farm life. Some of the questions I've asked my Grandma have been; what kind of geese her mother raise and what kinds of desserts her mother use to make for the Holidays. The answers are, white geese, and huckleberry and mincemeat pie for most occasions. As my Grandma get's older I feel more of a pressing urge to ask her about her family and childhood, and I keep thinking I need to write these tidbits down before I forget them. Today I've resolved to start sharing some of these stories on my blog, because we all know how rare and special these memories are.
I've always heard my Grandma tell stories about living on a farm in Idaho and all the dairy cows her father kept and how a truck would come to pick up the milk. I've known that her mother kept a flock of mean white geese and it was my Grandma's job to feed them. That her mother was known for her handmade goose down pillows that she would gift couples when she got married. I've pictured a quaint existence, my dream farm life in a cute traditional looking farm house. Today I asked if her family had always been farmers, and it turns out they weren't. There were all sorts of professions, something about someone making gravestones and other men working to build the railroad, often with farming on the side, but the farming itself was never enough. My Great Grandpa built railroad cars for a living. The twenty or thirty or more cows he milked before and after going to work was extra income.
My grandma told me today that her mother was well educated and came from a wealthy family. She had been a schoolteacher when she met her soon to be husband, a high-school student in her two room schoolhouse. They married and started a farm in Kansas but a tornado came and destroyed it completely. Her mom tells about how they lifted the lid to the storm cellar and saw chickens and cows flying by. So my great grandpa (one of twelve children) had a couple of brothers who had moved to Idaho, and he decided to take his new family and go join them. My grandma's mom's family gave her all of her inheritance in horses and cattle to take with her to start over again. They transported the horses and cattle in railroad cars from Kansas to Idaho, but it turns out that diseased livestock had been in the railroad cars beforehand and every single horse and cow that she'd been given died from the disease. Grandma thought that maybe it was hoof mouth disease but wasn't sure.
The time line is murky, but apparently my Great Grandpa began working for the railroad but then at some point felt called to be a preacher. He wanted to get training to be a preacher, but at that point had small mouths to feed and as you can imagine, that didn't make a lot of sense at the time so he kept working at the railroad while they slowly started over from scratch a third time.
I asked my Grandma if they had a root cellar. She said that they did and that she hated going down there because daddy long legs would drop on you as you went down the stairs. She also said that it flooded every spring and they had to put boots on to go down and fetch the potatoes and onions off the top shelves. My Great Grandpa didn't build the house. So I'm guessing he must not have bought the house in the spring otherwise the flooding would be apparent. Grandma says that he would try to bail out the water in a frustrated attempt every spring to get rid of it. I guess a flooding root cellar could happen to anyone, maybe it is even common for cellars to flood in some locations? But what a drag, wouldn't that humidity make for shorter storage duration?
My grandma told me today that she use to hate making butter and that it didn't even taste very good. She said they would make it in a tall stoneware churn and that after churning, her mother would work it and work it in a bowl with paddles trying to get all the buttermilk out of it. Grandma thinks that it didn't taste very good because of how hard it was to get all the buttermilk out. Which makes me wonder if butter didn't use to taste as good as old folk reminisce, or if my Great Grandma just didn't like working the butter and lost patience before it was done. I suspect that that's not it, as I really don't think anyone working that hard on a homestead and churning their own butter wouldn't try and do a proper job of it. Maybe it was the storage, keeping it in an ice box that had the ice replaced every three days. I, myself have made butter in my food processor and then worked it in a bowl with paddles, and probably gave up before the liquid ran clear- it was a lot of work. And the butter did pick up fridge taste and spoil before we used it all. And all this concerns me, because I've always thought that by the time I'm an old lady I'll have a really sweet milk cow named Rose, or Daisy, and I'll make all of our own butter and it will be the best butter ever. And now, I wonder if I'll go to all that work only to never have butter taste as good as I want it to. The kids and I just finished reading Farmer Boy for the second time. I love that book, there is so much valuable information in there. We read about how the Butter Buyer came to his farm and tested his mother's butter with a long sampler and when he pulled it out it was all firm and creamy. He said it was the best butter he'd ever seen and paid fifty cents a pound for it. She had stored up five hundred pounds of butter in the root cellar and so she was paid $250.
If you make your own butter regularly and it is wonderful, let me know so I can keep my dream alive :)
I have one more story I want to share today. My Grandma said that they looked forward to when her father would get seasonally laid off by the railroad as they would leave the farm and head up to camp and pick huckleberries in the mountains. She said that they camped in tents, picked huckleberries and swam in the lakes, and that her mother would can all fresh huckleberries over the fire. She hung a big pot over the fire, filled quart jars with fresh huckleberries ( no sugar, she added that when she used them), and then she put the jars of berries in the water and canned them. My grandma said she covered the jars with water. I wonder if that is because she didn't have a lid to water bath can them? I have to say that it has never occurred to me that it would even be possible to can berries while camping. On top of that my grandpa had to drive back to the farm twice a day to milk the cows. I asked my Grandma how far away their camping spot was from the farm and she thought about a hundred miles. And I thought, surely not. I might have to track it on a map, because that just sounds crazy. She did say that sometimes the neighbors would help with the milking, but still!
From some of the things my Grandma told me today I was beginning to think that her family was poorer than I had thought, so I asked, phrasing it as politely as I could how she saw their family financially compared to others in their community. She said that she felt that they were middle class and most other households were in similar situations. She said that it was a poor time, and that everyone was poor and struggling. I wish my kids could see how good they have it. They hear about Laura and Mary from the Little House in the Big Woods, and how the girls were so excited to get an orange in their stocking or a pair of hand knit mittens. And I watch them digest the information and I wish that it would result in my children being more appreciative of their bountiful overflowing stockings and mountains of gifts. The motto of "The less you have the more you have, and the more you have the less you have", seems to really ring true for my children as well as the rest of American Society these days. It's sad. I'm not sure what I can do, but I am going to keep telling my children stories of a time long ago, when children worked hard all day alongside their parents and were thrilled to eat an orange once a year.
Well, that's all for tonight, but hopefully I'll make time to share my Grandmother's memories again. Oh, and in case you are wondering, she was born in 1929, so by my shaky counting that makes her 85....and her name is Erma.
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