Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It Was 1949 and Times Were Hard

I was four years old when we moved to this 80-acre hill farm in Iowa. Our family was already large and a new baby came along soon after the move. Five children. Two bedrooms. No running water, no electricity, no gravel road, and not a lot of money.

My mother cried when she first saw this place. (Click on the photo to see an enlargement.) After all, she was the one who did the cooking on a wood stove, the washing in a wringer washer operated by a Maytag engine, and tried to keep us fed on little or nothing. Dad was hard-working, too, but his work was outdoors, in the fields, taking care of animal and crops, and in addition, working as a hired man on another farm. It was hard for Mom.

But from my perspective, from the perspective of a skinny four-year-old, and then five-year-old, life on this little farm wasn't all that bad. I didn't know we were poor. I never thought a thing about it when Dad ground corn in a small grinder (again powered by the Maytag) and Mom cooked it for breakfast. And it never dawned on me that plucking pigeons because there was no other meat was out of the ordinary.

One afternoon when our parents were elsewhere (field? garden? where?) we kids were in the house alone. My older brother decided to pop corn for us. This meant that he had to light the cobs in the wood stove. We imitated our parents by striking matches on the window frame and tossing them into the stove to try to get the fire going. In the process we set the curtain afire. My brother was savvy enough at age eight years old to pull the curtain from the window and toss it into the stove, flames and all. Of course, my parents fussed when they found out and instructed us to never again attempt to light the stove.

The last winter we lived there Dad borrowed some traps from a neighbor and set trap lines. Daily he skinned the animals and hung the stretched furs in the garage, intending to sell them for much-needed cash. One Sunday, while we were gone to Nebraska to visit relatives, some crook stole our "cash", the furs. But losing the cash crop was not the worst thing to Dad...what bothered him most was that they had also stolen the traps which were borrowed and which he could not replace. What a dirty thing to do to a man trying to raise a family, a decent and good man.

In spite of the struggles, we children loved living here. We roamed the fields and the creek, dodged bees, picked mulberries, climbed the hills. It's a matter of perspective. It was hard work for a Mom and a Dad. But for us it was a good place to be.

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