Friday, June 3, 2011

DAD AND MY UNCLE ON THE OLD FARM

MY DAD AND MY UNCLE----TWO FARMERS

1951 in Pennsylvania was a very good year,  I think.  It was the year I was introduced to life on a farm.  I was five years old.  My dad and Uncle, brothers, lived on and shared the responsibilities of the families dairy farm and each had his strong points and weak points as well.  My father, Donald and Jewell, my Uncle,  undertook different, yet definite work responsibilities pertinent to operational duties.  I never noticed this trait at first but, later it was very evident.  But, let me digress.

An early Fall Day in 1951 found me in the barn with dad watching him attach huge pieces of leather harness to Charlie, an enormous dark brown work horse that stood taller than dad.  Dad then walked to the next stall and repeated the process with Whitey, another mastodon of a horse.  When those horses walked out of the barn the earth shook.  Seriously;  I could feel the ground vibrate with every step they made.  It made an impression on me that I never forgot, and I'm 65 years old now.  Dad walked between the horses as he lead them across the barn yard to the plow.  If I remember correctly it was a two bottom plow which would cut two furrows simultaneously.  Two handles curved back for the operator to grasp and guide the plow as it cut it's furrows through the field.  My Uncle, at some point in time, built and attached wooden spoke wagon wheels onto the plow in order to make it more mobile.  A lever was pulled that would set the plow points on the ground so they could dig in when the forward power was applied by the horses.  The plow shares would then neatly fold the plowed soil over into a neat row of sod, grass side down.   As you may have determined by now;  my Uncle was the inventor of the family.  He was the tinkerer, always measuring something with his personal forty foot tape measure that he kept on his person at all times.  The problem was that he often started a project and would take years to finish it.  When asked about finishing something he started he would say, "there's too much to do and he'd get to it when time allowed."  Funny that he had time to start things but not enough time to finish them.
All of a sudden dad grabbed me under the shoulders and lifted me up onto the back of Charlie.  I was all grins.  This was the first time I had been permitted to sit a horse.  It was grand!  Dad set the plows and said something that sounded like "yep, yep" to the team and they trudged along under dad's guiding hands on the reins.  I was impressed.  Those horses were fine, strong animals and I adored them.  They had a habit of standing under some enormous poplar trees that lined the road in front of the barn.  A terrible lightning storm came up one day and lightning struck the huge poplar they were standing under.  Charlie was felled instantly.  Whitey was totally blinded.  A tragedy.  Dad lead Whitey into the stable and was quite depressed.  The next day a truck with a winch and a long flat bed pulled up to where Charlie laid.  A cable was wrapped around his two back legs and he was winched up onto the truck bed.  The truck then pulled down to the barn yard.  I couldn't understand why.  Whitey was in there.  The truck driver walked into the barn carrying a rifle.  A shot was heard and I could hear Whitey kicking his stall with his feet.  Dad said, "its just a muscle reaction," or something like that..  A long cable was drawn into the barn and the winch was started.  Whitey was dragged out and onto the long flat bed next to charlie.  I was devastated to say the least.  The passing of Charlie and Whitey marked the end of an era.  It signaled the advent of technology on the dairy farm.  It was a change I was sorry to see occur. 
Uncle Jewell, Grandma (104 yrs old) Me & Dad

UNCLE JEWELL'S RIDE

Dinner always occurred at noon sharp.  My mom and aunt Josephine, Uncle Jewell's wife, always called it dinner.  Supper was the 6PM meal.  Of course it's lunch and dinner these days.  Dinner was no small meal, ever.  Mom and Aunt Josephine slaved over a coal stove oven all morning preparing the best they could for the men who worked hard to keep the place going.  My mom and Aunt presented the men of the house hold a feast every single day of the week.
"Pass the mashed potatoes to your dad."
I replied with a simple "yep."

The sounds of the horses hoofs were loud but not as loud as the yelling and screaming that accompanied them.  "Whoa Charlie;  Hey Whitey, Whoa, Whoa, hold up, hold up."
I can still see dad lean slightly back in his chair to pull the thin curtain to the side as he peered through the distorted window glass behind him.  I ran out onto the kitchen porch in time to see both Whitey and Charlie stretching their forelegs far out in front of them, running as if the demons from hell were at their backs. The cloud of dust they were kicking up from the dirt road obliterated any view of my Uncle Jewell and the wagon he was sitting on until it passed the house.  Burlap bags full of cow feed were tumbling off the wagon through the open end gate at the back of the wagon.  As my Uncle and the team raced by, Uncle Jewell's farm hat blew off his head and landed unceremoniously at the side of the road, baring his bald head which made it easier to follow his movements in the wagon.  Aunt Josephine stood leaning against the porch railing holding a handkerchief to her mouth chanting the words, "oh my, oh my" over and over.


Dad had a wide smile on his face and I thought I could hear a chuckle.  He was enjoying the spectacle his brother was involved in.  Mom said, "do something Don."
Dad replied, "horses will tire----in a few more miles."

It seemed to me then, and in later years, that dad delighted in my Uncle Jewell's foiled follies.  I think it's because my Uncle designed the business decisions and things pretty much went his way.  I think dad found great delight when Uncle Jewell proved occasionally that he could be wrong.  The horses did tire and finally stopped.  Mom made dad trail the wagon in the old Packard.  They tortured my Uncle for three miles and stopped on the outskirts of the town of Scottdale.    All ended well.  It was just another day on the farm.

All was soon forgotten and the event was never brought up again in conversation, ever.  It was just business as usual.  But, I never forgot....

If you would like to hear more about the old farm; just say so.  There are many stories I could tell about the old days.  I've had an interesting life.  Thanks for tuning in.