Brought Up to Share: Early Life on the Family Farm

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By Capper's Staff | Feb 9, 2012

There were nine on our family farm: five children, my parents and my mother’s parents. There were also one or two hired men at times. When we were older, our friends’ daughter came and stayed for a school year until she graduated from high school with my oldest sister. So there was always room for one or two more to eat or sleep, and we were brought up to share.

My earliest Christmas memory was when I got “Toodles,” who had a composition head and a stuffed cloth body. My father would go with a horse-drawn sled or wagon on runners to the nearest larger town at Christmas, and a clerk named Mamie would select one item for each of us. I never remember my mother going, as my father always did all the shopping. The only time we went along was when we had to be fitted for shoes.

My three older siblings attended country school, and I remember what a treat it was to be allowed to visit. Later I met the teacher and she recalled my visits. By then a public school in town had been built so I started first grade there. We went in a horse-drawn bus-wagon with side curtains-it had wheels in good weather and runners in winter. My mother heated soapstones in the oven so our feet would stay warm. I must have been able to read when I started as I was 6 in March, and I was promoted to second grade after a few weeks. At home, I loved to play school.

In about 1920, we had a Dodge car with side curtains and running boards. We were moving to Wisconsin that fall, so in the summer, we set out- five children and our parents, to visit relatives in Minnesota. At one stage of the trip, we had a great deal of rain, and we ended up leaving the car and taking a train to Elbow Lake. Traveling with five children must have been quite an adventure.

In the fall of the year, it was a large event when the steam powered threshing rig came to thresh the shocks of grain from the field. The neighbors helped, and the men in our family helped when it was their turn. There were about a dozen extra men to feed for a couple of days. This meant a lot of food to cook and dishes to wash. We didn’t have modern conveniences, so Mother put a wash bench outside with a pail of water, soap and towels and the men washed there before coming in to eat. I am not sure at what age I started washing dishes with my grandmother. We had two metal dishpans on the table; I washed and she wiped.

Now that I am in my 80s, I realize how much work my mother did. She was a seamstress before she was married and she had a domestic treadle machine on which she made all our clothes: dresses and coats, bloomers, etc. My grandmother pieced quilts by hand and made braided wool rugs for our bedrooms, which were very heavy to shake out of the windows every Saturday morning. She also crocheted doilies and knitted lace edgings for pillowcases. I am glad I had the experience of learning from my mother. It came in very handy after I had my two daughters.

Living on the farm probably taught me to appreciate more the conveniences we now have and to enjoy life to the fullest while we are young-I know I never missed what I didn’t have!

Erma Hawkins
Tucson, Arizona

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.

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