As the weather has turned warmer and the spring rains have been falling, the world around us has come to life. One of the first reactions on our part has been to bring our freshly serviced and tuned lawn mowers out of winter storage and encourage my wife and I to begin our annual badly-needed outdoor exercise routine. Our reward from nature has been the appearance of colorful blossoms on the fruit trees in our orchard and ornamentals in your yard.
Lawn mowing is the closest thing that I’ve done to farming this spring. It wasn’t always like that. There was a lot of labor and time involved in the spring work, including the spreading of a winter’s accumulation of manure from the pile by the barn. Plowing and harrowing were done as weather permitted, sometimes as early as March or as late as June. Seeds were planted according to the recommended dates listed in the Farmers’ Almanac wherever possible. Around the house, no seeds or small plants were ever put out in the garden until the “right sign” came along.
The garden was an important part of farm life that was usually organized by my mother. The garden was her personal turf – at least at planting time. She was willing to train anyone else on the skills of operating a hoe later in the summer. All through the summer and into the fall, my dad could be found on his knee pads in the garden pulling weeds and running the hoe, sometimes a mechanical cultivator. No weed killers nor any motorized digger were ever found in that garden – until Bill Ralston, from the local hardware/general store, convinced us that we needed a “Roto-Tiller” with motor on the front and tines on the back. That was a “best move ever” in my memory. Homegrown veggies and flower arrangements were the reward for the labor.
House cleaning was another operation that came under my mother’s direction. In those days, most people had “dirty” houses by the time winter was over. Most of us used coal for heat and coal furnaces and heaters tended to puff smoky dust throughout the house. At the first sign of warm days, my mother declared that it was time to begin spring cleaning.
The first step was to take down the curtains and hand-wash them. Most of our windows were covered with some sort of lace curtains and they had to be handled carefully. That was good for my dad and me, since “carefully” wasn’t high in our vocabulary. After hand-washing, they were placed on “curtain stretchers” to dry. These adjustable frames were made of wood and had a line of dull pins sticking out on all sides to receive the curtains. I think they were designed to prevent shrinking as the curtains dried.
After we got past the curtain project, next came the rugs. They were not the wall-to-wall kind in today’s home, but area rugs. Each rug was carried or dragged outside and draped over the clothes line. It was often my job to “beat” the rugs. I was handed a metal frame, molded into something like a tennis racket with wide mesh, to “paddle” the rugs — a technique developed that came in handy in later years in the classroom. The process of paddling a rug was intended to knock the dust out of it. We didn’t have vacuum cleaners in those days — not until the Electrolux man came down the road years later.
Our house, like many of the houses of its day, had wallpaper on the walls. Coal dust, along with handprints and other things, collected on the wallpaper. My mother bought this strange wallpaper-cleaning material that resembled modeling clay. She showed me how to work it into a doughy wad and then slide it down over the wallpaper. It worked something like an eraser and actually lifted the dirt off the wallpaper. When it got dirty, I learned to fold it over and squeeze it a few times like people do with one of those hand strengtheners, then resume with a cleaner clump of that awful stuff. I hated that job! I have suspected that the cleaner later evolved into what is now known as Play-Doh.
My mother always had chickens, too. She enjoyed having them around, so she usually bought little chicks in the springtime. They would arrive in a box, and there was always a lot of chick chirping to let the whole world know they were around. Some of them were shipped to the local feed store, Art Miller’s Feed Store on 5th Avenue in those days, and other times they came right to the post office for people to pick up, or to have delivered by my dad, the parcel postman.
At our house, the box was set in the corner of the kitchen where it could be closely watched until the little “peeps” gained strength after their travels across country from some hatchery. A few would not survive, but most tottered around the box finding their own little corner and then slowly growing from a little puff of fuzz into a fine, feathered friend. Occasionally a chicken-fight would break out and she would have to smear some foul-tasting salve on the victim to prevent another occurrence. By later in the summer, they would all be out in the chicken yard. Soon fresh eggs would arrive in the Frigidaire.
Now, the walls in our house are painted, and repainted as often as needed. The carpets are swept and shampooed on a regular basis using electric machines. The curtains can be tossed into the automatic washer when they look dirty and be hung outside on the line to dry where they’ll be okay without any stretcher. Life has really changed.
I did hear peeps last week at our church. The little chickens were hatched in the Brockway Nursery School at Brockway Presbyterian Church for the little kids to see and learn. It was just like the old days. All is not totally lost in this faster-paced world after all. We can buy veggies we like at the local grocery store and, when I walk out the door with a gallon of milk and a dozen of eggs, I tell people, “I’ve just done my chores for today!”