Remembering the Family Farm During the Great Depression

A woman recalls growing up on a Wisconsin farmstead without electricity during the Great Depression


| Good Old Days



My parents had a family farm on 80 acres in Cushing, Wisconsin. I was born in 1922; a doctor and a midwife delivered me at the farmhouse. I lived through the Great Depression, when money was scarce to make the mortgage payments. The man who received the mortgage payments said, "If you can't pay on the principal, just be sure you keep up the interest payments." Sometimes Dad would have to ship a calf south to St. Paul to get a little money.

The farm became my playground. When the wild blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries ripened in the woods I fastened a small pail on my belt and picked them. Wild plums, chokecherries and pin cherries grew along the fence line. Mom made jelly from those. In order to pick them, I drove an old gentle mare hitched to the buggy. She ate grass while I stood in the buggy to reach the fruit.

Early in my life I rode horseback on one of the work horses while Dad plowed or cultivated. I hung onto the harness. Dad let me ride his saddle horse at age 5, and from then until I left home at 19 I rode horseback nearly every day except in the winter. Mom got a trifle exasperated with me because she needed help in the house. Pails of water had to be brought from the well, and wood from the woodshed. If she'd ask me to wash the supper dishes, I'd say, "Yeah, but I just want to go for a little ride first."

We didn't have electricity until about 1928. Before that, with no refrigeration, perishables had to be taken to the cellar between meals. With no electric washing machine, Mom scrubbed clothes on a washboard and boiled them in a boiler on the wood-burning cookstove. The ironing was done with sad-irons that were heated on the stove-very heavy, usually too hot-which scorched the clothes-or were not hot enough. Kerosene lamps provided light at night, and a lantern was carried from the house to the barn.

My grandparents, Sheldon and Mary Armstrong, had home-steaded the land in 1875. Their six sons and one daughter grew up there. My dad, Ray Armstrong, continued to farm with his dad when he got home from France after World War I. Grandma died in 1921, so when Dad and Mother married they bought the farm, while Grandpa continued to live there. What a lucky arrangement for me, as I tagged along with Grandpa; I learned all about farming from him. He became frail and was hospitalized with kidney stones-he died before I was ready for such a calamity.

Dad continually cleared more land. He cut down trees for wood and hauled rocks to a ravine. With the team and sled in the winter he hauled cord wood to St. Croix Falls, 12 miles away. He was so proud of his team; they'd pull anything. Once he hitched the team to the school bus and pulled it out of the mud when it was stuck on the road.





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