It doesn't take much to realize that our lives have been very different from our parents. Changes we had little control over have made our lives easier in many ways and harder in others. I know my Dad would not have enjoyed being bombarded by some of the technology that we deal with today. The most technical thing he dealt with was probably the television set. This would have been before satellite television, just regular antenna TV.
I do not remember a time we did not have electricity, but certainly remember when we had no telephone, no television and the only games we played were on cardboard with pieces we moved by hand. Winter was a time for those board games and for listening to the radio on long winter evenings. Winter chores, however, took precedence night and morning, regardless of the weather.
Radio was a pretty important part of the home and there were programs that we listened to on a regular basis. The radio sat beside my Dad on a table by his easy chair within reach of the dial. The chairs were seated in a semi-circle around the pot-bellied coal stove that dominated our living room. Behind it was the coal bucket with chunks of coal ready to be put in the fire when needed and the coal shovel that regularly moved the chinks and coals around for added heat. The banked fire would blink and twinkle behind the mica window at the front, where we peeked in to watch its glow.
My favorite spot was under the table where the radio sat listening to the programs my parents tuned in. At morning and at noon, however, it was the Little Red Barn segments out of WOWO at Fort Wayne, giving farm news and markets with Bob Sievers and Jay Gould. Like all kids I thought there really was a little red barn and listened as Bob and Jay walked to the barn each morning, remarking on the crunch of the snow underfoot as the chickens crowed and the cows mooed.
Chore time on the farm was usually first thing in the morning and about four o'clock in the afternoon. That's when the livestock was fed, cows were milked and milk was brought to the house to be strained, pasteurized and put in containers for our milk supply of the next day. Then, cream was skimmed off for butter and the fresh milk ended up on our oatmeal come morning. Sometimes there were small globs of butterfat still in our milk. I drank it down, but I never really liked those globs of fat even when they were few and far between. Extra milk was mixed with dry, pig feed and given to the hogs. They loved it!
One of our jobs was helping make butter from cream. It really didn't take too long. We had a glass churn and the cream was poured into the bottom glass jar, the lid with its wooden paddles put in place and we began moving the handle at the top of the churn which moved the paddles. As you watched the butter granules would start to gather, beginning small then getting bigger and bigger until they concentrated into one large glob, surrounded by the buttermilk. The buttermilk was drained off through a sieve at the top of the jar.
The butter was then removed from the churn, put into a bowl and the remainder of the buttermilk worked out with a flat sided wood paddle to prevent the butter from turning rancid. A bit of salt was worked in as well, for flavor. Butter was then put in molds with fancy decorations. Ours was just molded into a bowl ready for table use.
You can't beat a warm homemade slice of bread, topped with fresh, cream butter, melting in and around that warm bread with warm butter running down between your fingers. I remember my aunt telling me of my grandmother slicing off a warm piece of bread for my grandfather, topping it with butter and adding sweet cream on top of that.
It was always a sad time when the cow went dry and we had to buy milk and butter. Of course butter making was just one of the chores that had to be done.
In winter there were fewer chores on the outside, but many other types of work took its place. Winter was when sewing, darning, mending and quilting were done by my mother, while my dad would be trying to catch up on some of the add jobs there was little time for in the busy summertime. He might be mending gates in the barn, going over that machinery making sure that it would be ready come spring, or cleaning out the barn if the weather cooperated. The garden may have been sleeping and the harvest completed and put aside till spring but chores still needed to be done. Animals needed care more so in winter than summer and sometimes it took a lot more time to care for them in winter. Grinding feed for the livestock and getting down hay and straw made for winter work. Add hauling water for the livestock and chipping away the accumulated ice, even winter was busy.
Doing those winter chores kept us outside and active even on the most blustery days of winter. But, once you entered the relative warmth of the barn the world was a kinder, gentler place. Little wind penetrated the tight walls and the floors were covered with deep beds of straw. Warmth rose off the animals and it seemed really warm compared to the outside temperatures. You were always greeted by the moos, baas, meows or clucks depending on the type of animal you raised.
Chore time is still four o'clock in my mind. No matter what the weather or what other things you were doing, when four o'clock rolled around you headed for the barn to do the chores.
Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer's daughter and now as a farmer's wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.