Old Home Farm

A Nocturnal Visit From An Old Friend

farm signThere is nothing quite so eerie as the cry of a screech owl. My ancestors are Irish, and Granny used to tell of her grandmother swearing that every time she heard a screech owl, it was really a banshee crying out for the soul of someone destined to die. When Granny was little, the sound would cause her to hide under the covers and tremble. But when she grew older and found out what it really was, she became rather fond of the unearthly cry.

For several generations now, a family of screech owls have lived deep in our woods. Granny taught me at a very early age what the cry was, so I would not live the terrors of her childhood. And Daddy passed on his love of all nature, so I have loved this wild sound all my life. When I lived away from here in the many different cities where Greg was stationed, I missed three things most of all. The call of the whip-o-wheel, the sound of cicadas (i.e. jar flies) and the scream of the screech owl.

the woods

Until tonight, I had only seen pictures of the screech owl in books, or on nature shows. I've been privileged to see a 'hoot' owl close up (actually trying to get into the chicken pen), a great horned owl in the zoo, and a beautiful little barn owl who visited my yard one wintry day and sat shivering in the tree closest to the house. Daddy put on gloves and took him to the barn where he lived for quite a long time.

So you can imagine my delight when Greg called me to "Come see!" after going out to fasten the chicken house. I ran out barefooted, and looked up into the cedar to see a tiny little owl gazing at us with his huge eyes. Of course I knew right away what it was and sent Greg for the camera.

I am one of those people who talk to everything, so I said, "Well, hello there! I've known your family all my life. It's so nice to finally meet you."

The little guy swiveled his head as only owls can and replied with a sound very much like my hens when they are content and puttering about. Greg arrived and my little owl sat very still while he took a picture. When it flashed, I expected him to fly away, but he simply blinked and turned his back on us. So Greg took a second shot for good measure. Then we said good night and left him perched above my bird feeder, which he was eyeing with great interest. It makes me wonder if perhaps he comes here sometimes for a snack on his usual rounds as he looks for mice and insects. I hope so. I'd like to think he will become a friend and visit more often.

owl at night

I have always loved this farm of ours. And with every passing year, and each new adventure, it becomes even more dear to me. There is nothing like being a country girl and living on the land of your ancestors. And there is nothing quite like meeting old friends for the first time.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

It's a Southern Thing

farm signEvery year I succumb to a certain malady. Actually, it's more of an addiction that only another Southern can understand. Just when my tomatoes begin to bare fruit, I am overcome with an uncontrollable urge to pick them. I can never wait for the first fruit to ripen, no matter hard I try. I just have to pick them. Because one of the best things about growing tomatoes is fried green tomatoes!

There is an old adage — "I'm Southern, therefore I fry." And that pretty much sums up the southern food experience. We fry everything! From chicken to pickles, it gets floured, batter dipped, or just plain dropped into the grease. There really isn't much you can't fry.

southern cooking

Growing up, there was always at least one fried item on the table for every meal. As I became older and discovered a love of cooking, my frying became less and less. I discovered Gourmet magazine, Savor, and The Great British Baking Show just to name a few. I experienced new foods such as Indian Curry, Gyros, Greek Salads, and Italian cuisine. But I never lost my love for the basics — crispy fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried pork chops, fried cabbage and best of all the fried green tomatoes.

So yesterday when Greg came in to tell me that we have "Green tomatoes the size of your fist," I ran out to see. I told myself that if I would just wait I could enjoy sweet ripe tomatoes by the weekend. But the temptation was just too great and I picked the four biggest green ones. Out came the cast iron skillets and dinner was underway.

tomatoes on vine

A lot of people dip their green tomatoes in an egg wash, then into flour or a batter, but we have always just put them into a bag of dry flour/cornmeal and shook them up good to cover evenly. I used my home rendered lard and laid them down in batches to fry.

southern cooking

Out they came, crispy and golden. With them I served our home grown pork chops (fried) and fried a head of our home grown cabbage.

southern cooking

The 4th of July is a celebration of our nation's independence. What better way to celebrate this than with a show of our individual independence? Home grown food independent of chemicals and big Agri. Thank you to those "freedom fighters" then and now for the freedom to own my farm and grow my own food.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Harvest Time!

farm signThere is nothing so satisfying as setting a plate on the table consisting of all of your own food. Food you have grown yourself — carefully planned for, tended, harvested, and "put by," as my mother used to say.


I recently started my harvest. Greg and I only plant small beds as there is just the two of us. It usually produces enough for us as well as sharing some with family and friends. Cabbages, peppers and squash get eaten right away. We used to make jars and jars of sauerkraut when I was a child, but Greg isn't really fond of it, so this is not something I "put by." But cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, onion, and okra all get processed for future meals.


This year I made refrigerator pickles. I usually can both sour and bread and butter, but this year I planted fewer cucumber vines. So when a recipe popped up on Facebook for refrigerator pickles, I decided to try them. I had enough for two large jars of bread and butter pickles. Greg eats some every day when he gets home from work. He says they are a nice refreshing snack.

cucumber pickles

My beans turned out great! Last year I only planted a half dozen plants just to see if they did well. This year I planted to full rows and harvested enough for six bags in the freezer. The secret to freezing green beans is to shock them. So you boil them for three minutes, then plunge them into an ice water bath. Once they are cold, you can let them drain and freeze them.

The peas I planted near them did not do so well. This is my second year to try peas, so I will enlarge the bed next year for all green beans. There are so many ways you can cook green beans — broil with garlic, boil with bacon and onions, micro wave with butter and lemon juice. It all makes my mouth water.

green beans

So, now I am waiting eagerly for the rest of my garden to "come on." Onions will be harvested next month, followed by tomatoes and okra. And all the lovely squash and peppers in between. Add any of those to our fresh pork, and you have a meal fit for a king!

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Wheels of My Own

farm signWheels of my own. The magic words for every young person. These days it usually means a car, if not a skate board. But in my day, bicycles were the big thing.

Even in the country, we all wanted to have a bicycle. All we had were dirt roads and cow trails through the field, but we were all wild to have those wheels, just like the city kids we all read about in books, or saw on T.V.

Daddy thought bicycles in the country was a silly idea. He was content to let me play on Old Jack the donkey if I wanted to go somewhere. But mother had been a city kid in California, she remembered having a bicycle and wanted me to have one too.

mom with bike
Mother at 12 years old on her bicycle.

My first bicycle was given to me for my 8th birthday. It came complete with training wheels — which didn't work so well on grass and dirt roads. But I rode it anyway, 'round and 'round the house.

Being tall for my age and rather long-legged, I soon out grew my beloved bike. Since money was tight, I had to wait four years for the next bicycle. I got "Old Blue" for my 12th birthday and I still have him today, though he's a bit rusted and worn. My daughter actually used my bike when she was little. One day soon, I hope to restore Old Blue to his former glory.

my bike

This bicycle did not come with training wheels, so I had to learn to ride the hard way. I took the bike to a side road and spent all afternoon, having wreck after wreck until I mastered keeping it upright and moving. I still have the scars on my knees.

I had such fun on that bicycle! We couldn't afford a basket, so I wired an old dish drainer to the handle bars and carried things like books, a lunch and my cat, who actually enjoyed the rides. By now, I was big enough to really go places, and I rode for miles down the side road, stopping to say hi to relatives and neighbors along the way.

I wiped out a few times in the gravel going down small hills, but that was just part of the fun. And I learned very quickly I DID NOT want to go down the Bruno Hill on my bike. Too steep, too fast, and too easy to wipe out.

I took my bike to one of my best friend's house and together with her little brother we traveled for miles down her dirt road, often winding up at the Bruno Store where we would buy a cold bottle of soda and rest before going back again.

I also rode my bike across our fields, following cow trails and into the woods, following the roads Daddy kept cut for the tractor. I put a lot of miles on that bicycle, and loved every minute of it.

Today, my granddaughter Kaydence carries on the family tradition. Her bicycle is also blue, and she rides all over the field following sheep trails and the tractor road down to the woods. Unfortunately, it is no longer safe for her to ride for miles alone on the highway, but there are biking trails at the town parks and she often goes there with the family.

kaydence with bike

Roads change, civilization changes, but the need for 'wheels of our own' is always there in one form or another. Even for country kids.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

A Shave and a Haircut

farm signGreg was on vacation last week. Not only did it mean some fun down time, but it was also a time to catch up on some overdue projects around the farm. We extended the clothes line, bush-hogged some pasture, and did a little sheep shearing.

Our girls are a mixed breed, mostly hair but with a little wool in their background. That means when spring comes, they have what looks like a Mohawk hairdo down their spines. So out came the generator and shears and it was time for a "Shave and a haircut!"

shave equipment

Greg uses the tried and true method of all shepherds to catch our sheep, with a good old fashioned shepherd's staff.

shearing sheep

It only took a few moments to take the excess off the top, then while the clippers cooled down for the next job, Lacey went over and informed Honey that it was her turn next!

shearing sheep

Greg trimmed up all four girls, then opened the gate and let them have the main pasture again. Boy did they feel good! They bounced and galloped around like lambs. Shearing can be hard work, but sometimes hard work can be enjoyable, especially when you see the out come.

shearing sheep

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Hand Me the Kerosene

farm signI am just recovering from one of the worst bouts of flu I've had in years. As I sat quietly on the porch this morning eating breakfast for the first time in several days I thought back to my childhood and all the times we had been ill or wounded. And I began to remember how Mother and Granny handled it.

Times were much different back then. We were very poor, and didn't just run to the doctor for any old ailment. It had to be life threatening, before we drove the 30 miles over that dirt road with some emergency cash taken from the fruit jar buried under the wood pile. As country folk, we had different methods of dealing with sickness on the farm.

My great-great grandmother Elizabeth was an herbalist and had acted as a sort of doctor and local midwife for this area when Granny was growing up. She had passed down to Granny many recipes for herbal remedies, which Granny kept made up either by her own hand, or paid the local pharmacist to do (Eucalyptus is hard to come by in Northwest Arkansas). She never wrote any of these down and I wish she had.

I know we used Mullen plant in the cough syrup, and some sort of tree bark for headaches. But I was very small and, while I remember helping Granny to gather things from the woods, I didn't take much notice of what they were. Later on, as it became easier to get medicines over the counter, these remedies were left to fall by the wayside. Now, fifty years on, I am beginning to question the wisdom of that.


Of course, there were other remedies that should have been abandoned. Usually, the first thing my family reached for in a time of crisis was kerosene. Yes, you read that right.

Have you ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? In it, the girl's father believed the cure-all for everything was Windex. Well, Daddy believed the cure to all major wounds was kerosene.

Kerosene was different back then. It was a pure clear liquid and mostly we used it for lighting brush piles we wanted to burn, or soaking stumps to burn them out. It was used as weed killer, wasp spray, and paint thinner. But let some one get a deep cut, step on a nail, get snake bit, or develop a rash and out came the kerosene can.

kerosene can
Sketch by Greg McAllister.

Kerosene does "draw." And I think that was one of the main reasons it was used. I could actually feel the "pull" as I sat with my foot in a pan of the stuff after stepping on a nail, or had a rag soaked in it wrapped around my arm where I had deeply cut it. Tetanus (or lock-jaw as we called it) was a real fear here on the farm, and I think the idea was that the kerosene would draw out all the impurities and keep that from happening.

It never seemed to occur to us that we could just go to the doctor and get a shot that would last us up to ten years. As it was, none of us ever contracted Tetanus, and we never seemed to suffer ill effects from using the kerosene. We even tried it for bee stings, but decided chewing tobacco worked better.

Another stand-by was Iodine. Pure Iodine purchased in a gallon jug. After soaking in kerosene for a time, the wound was carefully washed and then iodine was applied.

Iodine was guaranteed to kill what ever germs had survived the kerosene. If it didn't kill you first! I know of nothing save a real flame that burns worse than Iodine. And trust me, it will clear up poison ivy in 24 hours time.

My mother was a trained nurse, and she was absolutely appalled by these primitive methods. She relied on Epsom salts, Pepto Bismuth, Merthiolate, Milk of Magnesia, Vicks Vapor Rub, Camphor Oil, Black Draft, Aspirin, and Alka Seltzer. She also approved of the Iodine and it was her idea to use it on the poison ivy.

My mother on the far left.

While there was a doctor we could turn to in times of emergency, we had no local vet. So the medicine for our animals was similar to ours. Iodine was put on all cuts and scrapes.

Ever try to put Iodine on a cat? DON'T! Trust me, their battle wounds will heal just fine without it, and then you won't need the Iodine for yourself.

We kept baking soda at the barn to drench with in case of bloat. If a cow lost her cud, a rag was covered in lard and stuffed in her mouth. She would chew it, swallow it, then bring it back up, usually with the actual cud stuck to it. Daddy would keep a close watch on her until she did that, then remove the rag.

Mother, being a nurse, understood the digestive system, and made up her own scour remedy, which I still use today. One egg, some yeast, molasses, and raw milk. I've yet to see it fail.

Looking back I am quite thankful for modern medicine, even though I rarely see a doctor. With this flu, I simply followed my mother's example. Pepto Bismuth, Ibuprofen, Gatorade, and some Ensure until I could keep solid food down. Sometimes the simple methods are really the best.

Stepping Into the Shoes

farm signI put on a pot of beans this morning, and as I let them run through my fingers as I "looked them over," I found myself thinking of my mother. How many times did she do this exact same thing in the mornings before starting her daily chores?

And I realized I was using the exact same old tin colander she had used and would be setting it in the exact same pan she had used to rinse her beans. And at dinner time, I will be frying potatoes in the same cast iron skillet she had used with bacon grease I've saved from breakfast — just as she used to do.


I also did a load of laundry this morning, and while I did not use a ringer washer, I did hang them out on the line. And again, I thought of my mother, hanging out her clothes and singing hymns while doing so.

And I smiled as I heard my playlist of hymns blaring from the open dining room window. The music is somewhat different, but it is joyous songs of praise and I know my mother would approve. I could almost hear her shouting, "Turn your stereo up," as she used to do when I was a teenager and I played the Carpenters, Bee Gees, ABBA or Dottie Rambo in my bedroom.

hanging laundry

The chickens were clucking about under my feet as I worked, and I remembered how mother loved her hens. She would scatter grain under the trees in the backyard and talk to them and call some of them by name. Exactly what I do every morning.

mother and chicken
Mother and her chickens.

So I made a cup of tea, and sat down on the porch to consider my life. Every morning when I rise, the first thing I do is make my bed (as mother taught me to do), then I make breakfast for Greg, do chores, wash the breakfast dishes, sweep the floors (and porch), and look at what needs to be done for the day — whether its laundry, prepping for the evening meal, making a fresh loaf of bread, doing some house cleaning, studying for Sunday School lessons, or working in the garden.

All things my mother used to fill her days with. I even mend and patch Greg's work clothes on occasion, just as she used to sit and patch dad's overalls.

I have never realized before how much like my mother I have become. And how nice it is to know that. I am living much the same life she lived, but with better modern conveniences.

And yet, I still cherish and value the same morals and principals she did. And my home is filled with music, just as hers was. Mother had a beautiful voice when she was young and she sang all day long with or without the transistor radio. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I have a Bose Wave for my CDs and a mp3 player for outdoors.

Willia Roberts.

Without intention or design, I have stepped into my mother's shoes and am carrying on the life she lived as a farm wife and homemaker. And it was a natural thing to do. Part of the legacy of farm life.

I wonder when I am gone if my own daughter will suddenly find herself stepping into my shoes and fondly remember all the things I did everyday as a matter of course. I hope so. Because she will have the old tin colander, the pan, the cast iron skillet, and my CDs to carry on with.

me and aubry
Me and my daughter, Aubry Dilbeck.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.