Hard Work and Geese: Growing Up on a Missouri Family Farm During the Depression
Growing up on a Missouri family farm in the ’20s and ’30s gave me many bittersweet memories. Necessities for a big family were not easy to come by. Hard work and ingenuity along with determination kept us going through drought, crop failures, accidents and many childhood diseases. To remember my mama’s methods of survival can only make me appreciate more the conveniences that came to me later.
One of her indulgences was a flock of barnyard geese. Not only could she pluck the feathers for our own use, but she delighted in giving feather pillows as gifts and to her own five daughters when they married. Of course we all slept on feather beds. Can you imagine making up feather beds every day, making them smooth and plump? Having geese was something special to her. Once a year when she sold the excess, she had some “mad money.” However, she never spent it on herself. The children always needed coats, shoes, overalls and new print dresses.
My dad did not like the geese. They were a nuisance. They chased the baby pigs with their long necks almost to the ground; they dirtied the drinking water. They were such bluffs pretending to scare all the other animals.
Mama always went about her work singing hymns. When the geese heard her coming, they came running to her with squawks and honks. How beautiful they were! I knew what the expression “as big as a goose egg” meant because I gathered the eggs. Each spring they were hatched under an old setting hen because geese built their nests where varmints might get the eggs.
It was my job to catch them when it was time to pluck the feathers. After much squawking and evading me, I would succeed in catching one. Mama would turn it upside down between her knees and pluck the feathers. It must have hurt because the geese protested loudly. Mama would tell me how the outside feathers made the firmness for the pillows and under that was the down that made them soft. After several geese were plucked she had a sackful of feathers to cure until needed. In the wintertime we made the pillows out of heavy ticking, sewing them on the old treadle sewing machine.
After I finished high school, I was determined to go to college. I had worked all summer for the tuition, but in the fall I needed a new winter coat. There was no money, so Mama sold her geese and bought me a coat. It was a huge sacrifice on her part as there were four younger children to send to school. That coat was special!
When I married a few years later, we did get feather pillows for a wedding present. My husband still prefers them to all others.
Auda B. Bratcher
Ray town, Missouri
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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