In the days of old, as told by Texas grandparents, the children worked to help their parents in the fields. Working the ground by turning the soil up and down with horse and plow, then planting seed, kept the family eating. If you'd listen, you could here the farmer saying, "Awe Monk and Gee Dolly" as he told the horses to go left or right. The reins were around the farmer's neck and he needed both hands to guide the plow and hold it upright. Constantly looking upwards to check on the weather, because that morning it looked like rain. Many grandparents knew this life in the middle eighteen hundreds or early nineteen hundreds.
Potatoes were a favorite crop. Easily dug from the ground, but better fried in an old iron skillet. To eat a fresh tomato off the vine with the juice dripping down the chin was something the farmer often did.
Today, a child would say, "Yuk." But those children knew nothing about fancy packaged and sugar coated treats of today. If they ate candy, mother made it on the wood stove. And the frequency of candy eaten was once a year at Christmastime.
Yes, even to prepare the meal, it required cutting wood for the old iron stove. A mill could be found miles from the farm, but it was used to turn grain into flour for bread. Today, we even have countertop grain mills which are a much smaller version for the venturous cook. Farmers today, sell their crops standing in the ground and no longer worry about transporting to a mill.
A large round container, as if wrapped in tin roofing material, called a cistern was used for catching rain water. This water was used for dish washing in dish pans inside the farm house and for clothes washing outside the house. Scrub boards in large galvanized tubs, smaller than the cistern, but similar in appearance were used for the laundry. Lye soap, often made on hog killing day, was used to bring the garments clean. Wells were dug for drinking water, but some folks would drink from their cisterns.
Women made their soap in large iron pots outside, sitting on bricks high enough to put burning wood under the pot. These pots were black and huge as seen in movies used by witches. Lye soap was nothing but hog lard, water and lye from boiling point to cooling. Commercial lye was plentiful and it made making soap easier. Sometimes borax was added for better lathering, but not always.
On the farm, hog killing was a family event. It not only produced meat, but crackling for bread and lye soap for washing. The old farmers had smoke houses or plank buildings in which to smoke the hog meat or other meat. Crackling came from fat and skin boiled down or fried crisp for cornbread. In the spelling, the "g" was dropped and old timers called it Cracklin Bread. The larger the family the more hogs were killed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As soon as summer was over and the days cooled down, the farmer knew it was hog killing time.
In the good ole summertime, the best part of the year was watermelon season. Just bursting open the watermelon and eating the heart, which is the sweetest part, then throwing the remains to the hogs. Also shucking corn, filling a large pot with water and boiling corn on the cob was another summer treat. It was called the "Good Life."
Every farm had a milk cow for milk and butter. And usually more than one, because ten-gallon milk cans were needed for transporting milk to the house or to the neighbor. Stoneware milk churns for making butter were an after supper pasttime. Sometimes the old cows would get into bitterweed that could be tasted in the milk. The farmer would destroy all yellow flowering bitterweed that he could find.
Hitching the team of plow horses to a wagon and travelling miles into town or to a mill was common practice for farmers. Often he'd hitch up the team, ride into town to the courthouse and be the juror for a day. Going to bed early and getting up early was survival mode. Oh, yes, the chickens and getting up early was the rooster's job and laying eggs was the hens. Chickens gave the farmers meat and eggs continually. He wrung the chicken's neck, boiled her in water, plucked her feathers for feather beds and feather pillow and then fried her meat in a skillet. Flour and milk battered chicken is eaten all over the world today.
The out house was another use for the commercial lye purchased by the farmer to keep down the flies. In simple terms, this was the farmer's toilet. An elaborate out house had three seats, but to a farmer with thirteen children is was a necessity.
Storm cellars were dug underground for protection from tornadoes. Also used for keeping canned goods cool, because the earth underground is roughly forty degrees if dug at least five feet down. Another name is root cellar and by all means watch out for the spiders.
Believe it or not, but feed sacks from flour mills were made out of beautiful material. So pretty was the material that women made dresses from the feed sacks for themselves and their children. A child had two outfits, one for work and one for school and church. Church was very important. In Sunday School the children learned about the God of Creation. Bible reading was done in the evening by candle or Kerosene lamp. Even though Texas has its own power grid and most people had electricity in the nineteen thirties, many farmers were reluctant to hook up to electricity. The old farmer called on the Lord many times for rain and when the rain came, he never forgot to thank God for the rain. The rain was far more important than electricity and it still is to this very day.
Sears and Roebuck Catalog was where the farmer would dream. By the time the new catalog came out the old one had curled edges, missing pages and all from constant use. The catalog was the wish book of years past.
It was standard equipment on farms to see a pair of plow horses, plow, wagon, cows, chickens, smoke house, out house, storm cellar, well, cistern, fence and of course the old plank farm house with large porch. And all of this the farmer called home. Some houses were divided down the middle with a breeze way. Breeze way meaning the wind could blow through the house and keep it cool for sleeping. The old farm could sustain life without the farmer and his family ever leaving it.