An Iowa woman recalls her childhood farm chores on her family farm, including carrying water to the kitchen
Every member of our farm family of six children had chores to do either inside or outside. Since I was in the middle age-wise I thought I got the jobs no one else wanted-the others probably thought that too. Typical chores for me, a child in the 1930s and 40s, included carrying water to the house for general use. Since there was no running water it all needed to be carried and everyone helped with this chore. The reservoir on the side of the kitchen range needed to be filled so there would be warm water for cooking, washing dishes or bathing, and the big teakettle that took its place on the back side of the range for extra hot water always needed to be filled, as did the drinking water pail.
Feeding the flock of laying hens and gathering their eggs was another chore-not one I especially liked, but chickens were an important part of the family food supply. It was an exciting day in the spring when the baby chicks arrived, either by our own pick-up service from a local hatchery, or by mail, when the rural mail carrier delivered them from an order sent to a distant hatchery. The little balls of yellow fluff were cute for about two days, and then they sprouted feathers and required more care, feed, water and litter changing. There was always the fear of dreaded coccidiosis, which could take the lives of dozens of baby chicks a day. When the young chickens became 3 to 4 months old the roosters were dressed for fryers and the pullets were saved to lay eggs the next year. The old hens that were past egg-laying were dressed, canned for chicken and noodles or dumplings or sold. The eggs were gathered daily during warm weather, and several times a day during the cold winter months to prevent freezing.
In the spring there were always hens that developed the mothering instinct and were "sitters"-they quit laying eggs, and just sat on the nest hoping to hatch a bunch of chicks. Since the eggs were gathered daily, they didn't get to sit on them and tend them the three weeks it took to hatch a baby chick. Nevertheless, they would continue to sit on that nest unless they were shut up in a coop to break the habit. They became very crabby while setting and would peck your hand or arm when you attempted to retrieve the eggs from beneath them. Eggs were used in many ways on the menu of farm families. The eggs that weren't consumed were taken to the local produce station that bought our cream and eggs. The cream and egg money was what the house-wife had to purchase her groceries with. If there was any left over, there might be a new "something" for the house or a new pair of shoes for someone.
Our lighting system consisted of kerosene lamps, which I filled with kerosene two or three times a week along with cleaning and polishing their chimneys. Newspapers were used to help remove the black soot and give them a shine. Later we were blessed with the Aladdin lamp, which had a mantle rather than a wick to burn-it gave a much brighter light.
Milking cows and feeding hogs were other daily chores that I didn't do on a regular basis but helped with when needed, especially in summer months when the men were busy with fieldwork.
Shocking oats was a seasonal chore that was awful. The oats were cut and tied into bundles with a machine and left lying on the ground. Then a crew came along to "shock" the bundles by standing them up tepee style so the grain would dry and could be threshed by the threshing crew later. I helped with the shocking for a few years as I became old enough to endure that hot, scratchy job.
Most of the household chores were taken care of by my two older sisters, so I didn't really become efficient at housework. Ironing dishtowels, handkerchiefs and pillowcases seemed to fall to me because they were easy and there were plenty of shirts, blouses and dresses to be ironed by those more talented.
"Leading the hay horse" was another chore I acquired as I grew adept enough to keep ahead of the horse. Before we had bales of hay, the hay was brought in from the field loose on a hayrack and parked in front of the barn. A huge hay fork on a pulley was secured into a "bite" of hay. The pulley was attached to a large rope running up and across the roof, inside the barn and out the other side, where it was hooked to the harness on the hay horse. When the signal was given, the hay horse leader led the horse, pulling the fork of hay up into the barn until someone gave the signal to stop. Then they pulled the rope releasing the hay into the haymow. You always hoped you could keep ahead of the horse so he didn't step on your heels with his big hooves!
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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