Sunday, February 6, 2011

Greyhound Trip To The Farm '39

1939 11 years old
Greyhound Trip to Fond du lac
The family planned this trip, a summer vacation in 1939 for the 3 of us, Elayne, Bill, and myself to visit the farm in Fond du lac, WI. We packed up what we would need for the vacation. When the day arrived we boarded the Greyhound bus in uptown Chicago. Before the bus pulled away from the station Mother gave the driver some basic instructions and we were seated in the seat across the aisle so he could keep an eye on us. We arrived in Fond Du Lac safely, were met by family, probably a young uncle, and brought out to the farm.
Movie Classic 1939

I remember waiting beside the movie theater which was showing the WIZARD OF OZ. We were promised that we would get to see the movie. Usually once at the farm we would just remain there except for Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s or St. Joseph’s. You have seen little girls with long braided hair which becomes wispy in just one day, especially overnight. Well, come Sunday mine must have been something, because grandmother finally prevailed upon one of the young uncles, Tim or Mansfield, who knew how to braid rope they said, to braid my head of hair. I was so embarrassed at Mass as my hair was like 2 ropes hanging on my head. [Perhaps like a Pippi Longstockings]. Probably was a big improvement from grown ups point of view. 

I remember one or more Sundays after Mass visiting Aunt Marion at the Children’s Home. She perhaps worked there as a nurse. This fascinated me. 
A House Very Similar to Homestead

We 3 children spent many idle hours on the front wood porch, with only the view of trees, grass and sky before us. There were fowl, chickens, geese, who by mid-day would wander up from the farm buildings. Occasionally they would come onto the gray porch floorboards and leave their moist droppings. I think the hens were mixed colors or breeds. We could enter the grandparents’ living room via the door on the porch left. Once indoors I remember seeing a rocking chair. [cousin Dorothy has this treasure], and then a table to my right which held photograph books,  the family bible, etc.

There was a table on the left side of the room on which was set a radio with a large horn  on it. Not the dog, of course. 

Across the room from this radio was a large doorway opening into the dining area with its big claw legged oak table and oak high back chairs, leather seats. We ate many breakfasts at this table and many an ear of corn and warm milk poured out of green glass Mason canning jars. We must have been there some times late in the year. I remember playing cards in the twilight with granddad, sister and brother at this table, particularly a game called “old Shanty”. He’d have this oil lantern to cast light on the table. Smell the oil?  I dearly loved the sound of his voice and his dear snow white handlebar mustache, sparkling eyes. When I met with cousin Jack Bergin in Boise while RV-ing in the nineties I thought Jack's voice and appearance were much like my memory of granddad. I loved all the voices of the young uncles. Their voices were  similar with such rich tone.

A Painting Catches It All

Grandmother was most always working around the kitchen at the big, black cook stove keeping the fire going and heating water for personal hygiene. At mealtime her sons would arrive through the rear door onto a kind of mud room, wash up at the basin set on a stool before entering the kitchen and seating themselves at the dining table. The smell of the wood burning, the warmth, the breakfast smells are vivid to me. Most of my memories are seeing her working about the kitchen area. She must keep the wood burning in her stove for heating water, for baking, cooking. This was a large family they were raising. My father would refer to his mother with such love. I now know it is her constant being there and giving so much of herself that he treasured. 

I found this verse by Karen Ray on Google which captures, I think, some of the nostalgia my father might have had concerning the stove, that kitchen, and his mother. She shares.

Mama’s old wood cook stove--                                           
I remember it yet, All the goodies Momma cooked,
how can we forget?
For her to fix meals was always a pleasure,
My memories of Mother are always a treasure.
That old stove cooked three meals a day,
Light bread on Fridays, cakes and pies for holidays.
Cooked hams, turkeys and chickens with delight;
Many times used for canning until late at night.
The old stove heated the kitchen on cold winter days.

It served us so well in so many ways.
When we kids got home from school,
We always went looking
Straight to that old stove to see what was cooking.
An old iron pot that cooked the meat
Sat on the old stove, always cooking a treat.
Aroma of corn bread from the oven you’d smell
For us hungry kids, it sure cast a spell.
As my mind takes me back to the Good Old Days,
Our lives were so simple in so many ways,
But picture my mother in an apron if you could,
Standing by her cook stove with a bin full of wood. 
Karen Ray-  shares

Nearby was the slanting cellar door leading into the black, earth floored cellar. It was cool down there but not cold and this is where grandmother kept the milk for us. Seemed always to be warm and creamy, coating our lips, very different from the pasteurized milk from the bottles delivered at our house by the milkman. Kind of hard to drink, truly. When my mother often sang, ‘I don’t Want to Play in Your Yard---’, I always visualized this cellar door and grandmother descending the stairs to bring up the milk in her long, cotton house dress with her yellow gray hair piled in a bun atop her head. Times she’d ask us to fetch the milk from the cellar.

We slept in an upstairs bedroom. There were these very different windows which were almost down to the flooring. She kept a chamber pot in the room which we were to use during the night. It could smell quite hefty by morning, most mornings.
Old Shep

I believe Old Shep, their beautiful collie, was always grateful for our visits. He accompanied us most everywhere we went. He grew old through these years along with us.

We played fewer hours behind the house than out on the front porch. Here we would see the long grass deep green color of the grass and the yard sloping slowly down towards a creek bed with a shallow stream of water running through it., Van Dyne Creek. We were told that it was on the hill rising up from the opposite side of the creek that our grandfather’s uncle had built his home. My grandfather’s 2 older brothers had moved on West to Minnesota. We always were intrigued with such romantic historical information and thought we could spot the place where the house once stood each year as we reminisced when revisiting.  

There were large trees near the creek and often a farm implement was resting there. These were horse drawn and had the perforated metal buttocks formed seats and brakes and clutches which were a joy for us to play on. Uncles treated us kids royally.

We got to sit on the tractor with them, smell the gas vapors puffing out the engine. A few times we were taken out in the fields with that smell of the earth being turned. What a treat. The house was some distance from the red barn. 

We’d come first to the windmill with its pump and tin cup dangling there inviting us to pump and have a very cold drink of water. There'd be a metallic taste, either from the tin cup or the minerals in the well water or both. At any rate this was quite different from city tap water. Made the most lovely grinding, squeaky sounds as we pumped away and water splashed onto the form on which the pump stood. 

The machine shed stood in front of us and to our left. Here we often hunted eggs laid on implement seats, and hidden away in corners, most anywhere.

Can still hear the hens proudly cackling. We’d surprise one and she would jump up and flap her wings all in a flurry. There were usually baby kittens about for us to discover and to play with. A cow barn to the right of the pump held the good smells of fresh hay.

We were allowed to play in the hay or in the yellow straw. I wonder if perhaps we weren’t supposed to but the young uncles tolerated the play. We figured we were the only kids in the world to have this experience, only kids in our Chicago neighborhood for sure.

Times when we visited the family would be threshing the grain or recently finished, there being much hustle and bustle on and around the huge threshing machine and many wagons.. There would be a huge stack of golden straw mounded high beside the red barn. Times like this those hens seem to love laying their eggs in the fresh straw.
Threshing Done For Another Year
I learned the threshing machine was invented in 1784 by a Scottish mechanical engineer, Andrew Meikle, for use in agriculture to separate out the grains which for eons previously had to be separated by hand with flails. This was a huge improvement.

There was one Sunday morning, bright and sunny, the fields were all shiny, golden stubble after the grain had been harvested by a threshing crew. I was standing in the lane as I saw granddad walking up the long lane from the road to the house. He was a bit tipsy. Didn’t seem to recognize me. He was a changed granddad, without his cheery words. Been out all night. This was the first I learned he had an alcohol problem. 

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