It was a four room house sitting just north of to two ponds. Just south of the ponds was a 20 acre swamp. This is the place that I think of as home.
I guess the first memory I have of this place would be of my family sitting in the kitchen at the table. My younger sister was sitting in a high-chair that had been scooted up to the table because the tray was missing. The wood tray support slid like outstretched arms on top of the table. I sat on a stack of catalogs so that I could reach the table.
I don’t know why but I remember what the table looked like as though it was yesterday. The table had chrome legs with a tabletop that was a gray marbled pattern. The tabletop was circled by a chrome band. It was large squared with rounded ends. The kitchen had white metal cupboards and counters. On the counter next to the sink sat a bucket of water with a large ladle hanging on the inside. The kitchen floor was wood, not fancy hard wood, but plain unfinished wood. It always looked dusty even after my mom cleaned it.
At that time my dad and mom had six kids, and my aunt lived with us as well. All six of us kids shared one bedroom. Our bedroom had a set of bunk beds along one wall and two double beds along the opposite wall. Just inside the door along the wall next to the double bed was a bench seat out of a pickup. There was a small closet in one corner of the bedroom. It held piles of cloths that we rummaged through when we were getting dressed in the morning.
The living room seemed large to me at the time. In the living room was a couch and dads chair. The propane heater sat in one corner. There was a large homemade rag-rug on the floor. My aunt slept on the couch, so at night it was her bedroom. We had a television but it was in Mom and Dads bedroom on top of their dresser.
Every morning before breakfast we would do chores. My brother and I would get buckets and fill them with water from the pond. We would carry the water to the chicken coup, which was north of the house. The chicken’s house was more than twice the size of our house. It held about two-thousand chickens. My pant legs were always soaked by the time I made it to the chicken coup with that bucket of water. My sisters would haul buckets of grain from the granary and fill the feeders in the chicken coup.
South-east of the house, next to the ponds was the big barn, the granary, and the corrals. Just north of the corrals were the pig pens. My brother and I would fill buckets from the pond to fill the pig’s water trough. By the time all of the watering was done my sisters had fed the pigs, chickens and the milk cow. My aunt would milk the cow every morning and every evening.
Breakfast was always a big bowl of cereal on school days. We had to eat quickly because it was a long walk to the road where we would catch the bus. On weekends breakfast was always later in the morning and we had pancakes and eggs.
Growing up on the ranch there were always things to do, especially during the summer. It seemed that the year would start with branding cattle. Branding would start early in the morning. We would ride out on horseback to drive the cattle to the coral. Once we had the herd corralled we would separate the un-branded young heifers and bulls from the rest of the herd.
One by one we would rope a calf, and throw it down on its side. Two of us would hold it down, my dad would brand it, ear mark it, and then my sister would vaccinate it for Blackleg and Hoof and Mouth. Next, the young calf would be dehorned, and if it was a bull, it would be turned loose as a steer. Usually everything went well, but sometimes things happed that were the product of stories for years after. Branding always ended with a big meal and story telling late into the evening.
Right around the time of branding we would start farming. The fields had to be ploughed and ditches had to be cleaned. We would plow the field and harrowing it smooth, and then plant the crop. I felt so big when I finally got to drive the tractor. I learned to drive by riding on the tractor and getting to steer it down the field.
Irrigating was one of my favorite chores. I would make sure the water would run down each row in the field. We would irrigate from dirt ditches on our farm. Grandpa would shovel big chunks of dirt into the ditch to dam the water. Then he would cut small divots into the ditch bank so that just enough water would flow down the rows in the field. Once the water was set, we would let it run till the next day. Before we moved the water, we would check the end of the field, and if it was flooded we would water the next bunch of rows.
At night we would prepare eggs for sale. My sister Sherry and my brother Dick would hand wash the eggs. My sister Gail would candle and then weigh the eggs. Jenny and I would put them in cartons according to size. Once a week my mom would drive out and deliver the eggs on her egg rout.
During summer days we would slip away and play in the Tamarisks, or wade in the swamp and catch frogs or tad poles. Sometimes we would swim in the pond for hours or we would follow a cow path out into the pastures just to see where it would lead to. There was always something to discover.
In the spring we would dig up roots that grow in the pastures, Dad called them Indian potatoes. We would also gather wild turnips and wild asparagus shoots along the ditch banks.
Easter was always one of the biggest holidays of our year. We would get up early in the morning. My sister Gail would lead the way out of the bedroom. Mom would give us brown paper sack so we could hunt for Easter eggs. I know we must have done chores on Easter but I can’t remember weather we did them before or after hunting for Easter eggs. After hunting for eggs and then eating breakfast we would all take turns taking a bath in the “worsh tub”.
Our house didn’t have running water. It didn’t have a hot water heater. It didn’t have an in door bathroom. When we needed bathes my dad would put the “worsh tub” on the kitchen floor and mom would heat water in the big cooking pot on the stove. Then she would fill the tub with heated water. The girls always bathed first so we guys would sit in the living room while they bathed in the kitchen.
After we were bathed, we got dressed in our nicest clothes. My sisters all wore dresses and nice shoes. My brother and I wore a button up shirt and tie.
The entire family would gather at my Grandparents home after Church on Easter Sunday. The entire table would be filled with homemade food that my mom, grandma and my aunts had made. Everyone would fill their plate and then sit where there was room. No one was aloud to start eating until after the prayer was finished. Of all of the food, I remember the bread that my grandmother made, and the Angel food cake with the pink cherry frosting that she made, and I can still taste the watermelon rind pickles that Aunt Jane made.
After everyone finished eating, the men would go out to the horseshoe pit and play horseshoes. The women and teenage girls would put the food away, and then the teenage girls would wash, dry and put away the dishes. The boys were expected to stay out of everyone’s way so we would head out to the pond and skip rocks or if it was a warm spring we would fish for bluegill. The younger girls would play hopscotch or play with their dolls.
After the women were finished with the dishes and the food was all put away everyone would end up outside. The adults would play horseshoes all afternoon. Grandpa and grandma would organize the kids in foot races. My Grand Father had an old set of boxing gloves and he would pair us boys up and have us box; or he would have us wrestle.
During the spring the school days seemed to drag along. It seemed that Spring Break would never come. Once spring break was over it seemed summer vacation would never come. One of the end of school year activities was the may pole. I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was the fourth grade that did the May Pole dance. The girls would start practicing the dance in early in April.
The Maypole dance began as the girls gathered in a big circle around the pole. The girls would each take a loose end of a streamer that hung from the top of the pole. They would dance back and forth braiding the streamers down the pole as they danced. At the end of their dance the girl chosen as the Mayday queen would tie the streamers so that the braid was secure.
Summer vacation was always fun. We would fix fence and irrigate the field with Grandpa. We would spend hours swimming in the ponds. We would roll tires down the pond bank just to see whose tire would roll the farthest. We also had a tractor tire that we played with. We would all work to gather to roll it up the bank. Once we had it at the top of the hill one or two of us would lie inside of the tire. The rest of us would push it down the hill. By the time the tire stopped you were pretty well beat up but the ride down the hill was exciting.
During the hot summer days we would spend hours playing in the Tamarisks. It wasn’t nearly as hot in the shade of those bushes. They grew close enough together that they formed sort of a maze.
In the fall we would pick wild grapes, sand plumbs and rose hips. Mom would make jelly out of the fruit that we gathered. Around this time of year we would butcher a hog, a steer and a bunch of chickens as well. When we butchered chickens my job was to pluck tem. Dad would chop a chickens head off and toss it. After it quit jumping, one of us would grab it by its feet and dip it in scalding water. This loosened the fathers; which we would pluck. We also dipped the hog in scalding water. We would scrape the hair off of the hog skin so that it could be cut into small squares and baked into “cracklins”.
My dad would do most of the butchering. He would carve out the roasts and stakes. All of the hamburger meat or sausage meat would be placed in the wash tub. A meat grinder would be clamped the kitchen table and we kids would take turns grinding the meat into hamburger or sausage. Mom and my aunt and oldest sister would package up the meat and stack it in the freezer.
One of the things we kids liked doing was to pick out a cow path and follow it to where ever it would go. In the South pasture the paths could lead for miles. Another of our pastimes was to ride the horses out to the south pasture or even out to the Dotson Lake. Once we made it out to the lake we would wade into the water. Sometimes we would ride our horses in and swim with them.
There was always some sort of wild life to see. One time when I was swimming in the Dotson, a snake was swimming near the shore. I thought it was a water snake but when I got close it turned out to be a rattle snake.
Another time when we were riding we spooked up a coyote. We chased it on horseback across the pasture. It was a way ahead of us when it just disappeared. When we got to the spot where it we lost it, we found that it had fallen into an old cistern. We could hear the coyote whimpering and rattle snakes buzzing. My brother pulled a clump of dried grass, and holding it down into the cistern he lit it and dropped it. The cistern was about half full of dried tumble weeds so they caught fire and burned really hot. We stood back and watched the flames shoot out of the top of the hole.
We had a lot of pets while I was growing up. We had several dogs throughout the years. And several horses, I liked the horses. We had a thirteen-stripe ground squirrel and a magpie named Sassy Sam. We had a falcon for a few days, but Dad made us let it go. I had a coyote pup that got to be nearly grown. I was plowing our field, and the neighbor was plowing his. The coyote ran through the neighbor’s field and the Neighbor shot him. He was so proud of killing the coyote that he brought it over and showed it to me. All I said was yup, that’s a nice coyote.
I used to go skinny dipping in the cow pond. I liked to go out in the late afternoon when I was supposed to be fixing fence or chopping weeds out in the field. One hot afternoon I headed over to the pond, and when I climbed the bank I saw Cindy Wilson bare as you please. She was splashing around having a good time. I didn’t know what else to do so I hollered, “hi Cindy.” She dropped down as low in the water as she could and yelled at me. I left and went back to the field.
We used to go coon hunting on the river bottom at night. Mostly what coon hunting entailed was finding a comfortable place to build a fire and tell stories to one another. We had a couple of coon dogs that would trail things on the river bottom while we sat and listened to them bay.
Some people get their water from the waterworks; some get their water from a well. Our water came from a cistern. A cistern is a hole in the ground that has been lined with cement. Our cistern held about a thousand gallons of water. Once in a while the cistern would need to be cleaned. My sister and I decided to clean our cistern with bleach. She was going to lower me down on a rope and then lower the cleaning supplies down to me. Neither of us had thought out the process. As soon as I climbed over the side and put my full weight on that rope I dropped like a sack of potatoes. I found out that the bottom of a cistern is pretty hard and unforgiving.
I remember one spring when we tilled up a garden near the chicken house. I had been where we tore down some old hog pens. We tilled the soil really good then we made mounds to plant the seeds in. We put six seeds in each mound. Any way, the weeds started growing and it seemed every week we pulled more weeds out of the garden. That summer we had some of the biggest pumpkins and watermelon I had ever seen. That is when I began to enjoy gardening. I figured out that it really was worth the trouble of pulling weeds to grow a pumpkin.