A trip on the train with Mom and three younger brothers was an event in my young life, because we were always on our way to Grandpa's family farm.
Grandpa's 60 acres of rolling hills-with its bubbling spring, the swing under the huge old elm, the sand pile under the row of maples, the colony of bees in the new orchard, the persimmon tree and the "branch" running at the foot of the hill on which the new house stood-was paradise to the four of us. We waded in the runoff from the spring, caught fat frogs and toads, played house with big acorn cups under the enormous oak by the road, followed the cow paths through the pasture, squeezed between the rails of the pasture fence, and waded in the shallow sand-bedded "branch" on warm summer days.
Sometimes Mom would leave me there for a week, probably more for her own vacation than for mine. Then I played in the pasture with the little lambs, nestled in the corners of the rail fence making clover chains, caught the little gray lizards under the concrete bridge, or maybe turned the huge grindstone while Grandpa sharpened his scythe or Grandma's hoe.
These lovely vacations were not entirely free rides. My duties included keeping the wood box full for Grandma and bringing buckets of water from the well with its long, bottom-valved bucket hung on a pulley from the top of a tripod of rails. It was my job to gather the eggs laid by the multi-colored hens and to help
Grandma would shell corn into her apron to feed them. I set the table and dried dishes. I also ate fresh, buttered light bread with gobs of honey. I carried Grandma's wondrous sugar cookies about with me while playing. It was a pleasure to carry Grandpa's water jug and a sack of cookies to the field where he was plowing.
We would sit in the shade of a persimmon tree while he and his team rested from the walking plow, his cane hanging on the cross bar. Then we talked, for he was deaf, and I refused to talk to him when anyone else was around. He told me about the tadpoles in the little pond where the wagon or the buggy sat to soak the loosened felloes. He told me about the bugs we saw and named the grasses and weeds around us, the wild blossoms, even the birds that followed his plow when I wasn't back there scaring them away. When he walked the gullied slope on the far side of the run with the grass seeder over his shoulder, my job was to carry his cane until he tired. Then we'd sit and he'd tell me about the different trees and bushes-the elderberry and poke, the slim paw-paws at the crest of the hill and the walnut and hickory in the little stand of timber over yonder.
When blackberries and dewberries were ripe, Mom would bring us to the farm and we would pick berries among the briar patches and the chiggers. Chiggers were a commonplace cause of itching and scratching.
Summer nights on the farm were spent on the front porch, listening to katydids and whippoorwills, to Grandma and Grandpa talking. Winter nights were pleasant by the wood stove, Grandma knitting new heels into his gray wool socks, he reading his farming magazines, including Capper's.
There are oceans of memories attached to that old clay hill farm in Wayne County, Illinois, including that of a courageous, polio-crippled ex-teacher trying too late in life to bring back to productivity a washed-out piece of land, the strength of his wife and helpmate and the marvelous resourcefulness of both.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.