We were talking about our grandparents at the dinner table tonight. Mine were all farmers and lived well into their nineties. We decided tonight that their longevity had much to do with the farming lifestyle back then when a family worked hard together, ate what they grew and lived away from the city and pollution. Following is a chapter from my dad’s book Papa’s Journal. This chapter will make you glad you don’t have to plow your garden behind a mule! The kids of today would never survive farm life like it was in my dad’s day but it would be good for them to try.
Don’t be fooled if my memories seem to romance farm life and make it fun. For my parents or any adult farmer, it was pure long hard work. My Daddy used to say they worked from “can to can’t”. That means from before daylight until dark or after—six days and sometimes seven.
Probably early spring through the growing season of summer was the hardest. If the ground didn’t get prepared, the crops didn’t get planted. If they weren’t cultivated at the right time, there would be no harvest—so every hour, every day counted. During this crop time, a chore that must be done every day of the year was always waiting to be done. Before the men went to the fields, two cows had to be milked and fed, mules were fed, hogs were fed. This chore usually in the morning before breakfast and daylight. My Dad usually did this in the morning while Mom cooked biscuits from scratch, fried sausage, bacon, ham or chicken, eggs, and gravy on the wood stove.
A big breakfast was a must on the farm. Sometimes it was the biggest meal of the day. Often times when every hour of the day counted in planting, chopping cotton, or picking cotton, Mom would pack a lunch of biscuit and ham—or maybe a big bowl of white beans, cornbread, and milk—and bring it to the field at lunch time. We called it dinner. Lunch was a sandwich I took to school in a brown paper bag. Mom would spread an old quilt under the wagon or in the shade of a tree, and the men would eat in the field to save time.
Often times and maybe that same day, it would be nearly dark when Dad and Fagin come in from the field. Mom would have the cows milked, and my job was to feed the hogs, chickens, put feed in the stables for the mules (three or four ears of corn and a block of hay for each). Then I would be sure we had enough stove wood stacked behind the stove for cooking tomorrow—or fire wood stacked on the front porch if it was winter time. These chores were assigned to me, and they were what was called “my night work”. That came before study, play, or anything else. No excuses, no whining, it was my job, and that was that.
When the men came home they would be dog tired from 12 or more hours in the field. Many is the time I remember Dad and Fagin putting the mules in the stables, stopping at the branch and washing the coat of dust from their bodies, coming on to the house and sitting down to cold sweet or butter milk and corn bread, and then going directly to bed afterwards. I doubt if but a few people could or would work that hard today.
Another very hard and tiring farm chore was pulling weeds and cutting bushes. To increase the acreage, Dad and Fagin would clear or cut off a woods. By this they would cut all trees, then till what was called “new ground”. We did not have bull dozers or dynamite to remove the big stumps from the fields. So if the mules could not pull up the stump, it stayed there until it died and rotted out. The first year of a new ground was full of foreign weeds and bushes, suckers that would come up from the stump or roots. The weeds were tall and tough to pull. Since we had no herbicides, they had to be removed by hand. After a rain, we went through the field pulling the weed up by its roots. Then the bushes were cut with a grubbing hoe. All this operation, was hard work for anybody, more especially a kid.
If you would like to read more of Papa’s Journal check out the side bar on my blog page to order a copy.