~~ by tkbrown —
27 November 2020 — One of my Daddy’s favorite stories to tell of my childhood was a day we were all outside, gathered round bunches of corn that had been allowed to harden on the cob. This corn was used for grain to be fed the chickens and other animals. I remember, Daddy kept a huge wooden barrel outside the fence of the pig sty. When we were fattening a hog for butchering, he kept sour-mesh in this barrel. The sour-mesh stunk–oooooohhh, did it stink–due to the fermenting process taking place. At the time, I did not understand the reason behind that odor. I just knew it stunk. Some of the corn we had in the midst of our circle on this particular day would later make its way into one of those barrels of sour mesh.
I was about four years old, so all but a couple of the older siblings were still at home. We, along with Mama and Daddy, were outside, circled around a pile of corn with the shucks still on. We were shucking corn. One of the neighbors drove by enroute to see someone further down the road. As he was driving back toward his home, he noticed we were still engaged in the shucking process, so he pulled into the drive, got out and ambled over to where we were gathered. As he talked, we continued with our work. After a while, I looked up at him for a bit, then back to the cob of corn I was shucking. After repeating this observation process several times, Daddy said I reached into the pile of corn, pulled out two cobs, one for myself, and the other I handed to our neighbor. I told him, “Everybody works at our house,” then continued with my work. Daddy said our neighbor continued talking, looked at me briefly, then shucked the ear of corn, made his excuses and left.
One of my chores during these early years was to feed the chickens. During evening chore time, I would meet Daddy at the feed house, and he would give me a bucket of mixed grains and pellets. I would take the bucket to the general area where we fed the chickens and commence calling to them. “Heeeeeerrrreee chiiiiiccccckkkeeeeee. Heeeeeerrrreee chiiiiicckkkkeeeee.” I would begin slowly taking handfuls of feed and dribble it over the ground as I walked in odd-shaped circles. The chickens came running. By the time I dropped the last of the feed from the bucket, most of it had already been consumed. Those chickens obviously relished this treat at the end of the day.
Then, Daddy–or one of my older siblings–would go round the farm with me looking for eggs. There were some places where the hens laid their eggs regularly. Occasionally, one of the hens would strike out on her own in an attempt to find a place to lay a bunch of eggs and set on them. These settin’ hens wanted to raise a brood of baby chicks. Most of the time we would find them, shew them off the nest, and get the egg(s). The hen would continue to lay and try to set on the eggs. Sometimes, she would move her nest and finally succeed.
During calving season–when the cows were birthing babies–as the calves reached weaning age they would be fed with bottles. At this time, the cow would return to being milked with the other milk-cows. They ate their grain while being milked. Milk was taken from the bulk for the calves until they were placed on a special feeding formula which was mixed with water to replace the milk in the bottles. This continued until time to either take them to the sale barn or to mingle their feedings with the haying of the general non-milking herd.
When the weaning process began, the calves were separated from the general herd so they would not feed on the mother’s milk. They would pasture in a different area during this time. As the calves grew older, we would oft have to go find them at end of day as feeding time neared. Usually, they roamed the pasture together, so it was not typically difficult to find them. A few years later, after I had started school, it became one of my chores to find the calves and bring them in for feeding.
During these early years, we cooked on a wood cookstove. So, it was also my responsibility to help carry in kindling and wood to fuel the fire while we cooked. In winter, when we also heated with wood, I was to help carry in heating wood too. At the time, I did not realize it, but this method of cooking is truly an art–especially as it pertains to baking. The oven on a wood cookstove has a temperature gage on the door. The fire in the fire box has to be kept at a steady burn to keep the oven temperature constant. This burn in the fire box is managed by feeding wood into the fire and by manipulating the damper on the pipe which exits the house via the flue.
When one grows into the cooking process in the presence of someone who manages the fire for cooking, it becomes second nature and is not viewed as requiring particular skill–but skill it does indeed require. Looking back on those years, I can see what a talent this would take. As I learned to cook on that wood cookstove, I thought nothing of it. By the time I was nine, I was quite adept at baking in that oven and tending the fire to keep the temperature constant.
So, by the age of seven or eight, growing up on a farm during the mid-twentieth century, I had learned to help with the gardening and with preserving the produce in whatever form it would be needed at a later date. That corn we were shucking earlier was also shelled from the cob so it could be bused as grain for the animals without having to stop and shell it then. I had learned to feed some of the animals, to gather eggs from the chickens and to bring in kindling and firewood for the cookstove and for the heating stove during colder months. Thus, my comment to the neighbor was never meant to be rude. It was the blatant honesty of a four-year-old who had been taught everyone works together when living on a farm.