Now that winter is here, I recall my wintry farm experiences at Lot 33, Concession 5, Markham Township, York County, Ontario. Now, fifty plus years later it is called Warden Ave. which used to be a street in Toronto, in my memories. (keep the city in the city why not?)
It was a chilly walk through the dark from the old brick house , passing the milk house and as I opened the heavy wooden door into the barn, a blast of steamy warm air greeted me. Not sure how to describe the smells, but fresh hay that had been pushed through the hole from the mows above, the slightly sour smell of corn silage in the cows’ mangers were there. Throw in a whiff of fresh manure, warm milk being poured from the surge milker into stainless steel pails and you have the main components. The milking machine was chugging away, the 20 plus cattle were munching their dinners, the barn cats were waiting for warm milk to be splashed into their dish, and their pleading meows added to the familiar and comforting ambience.
In my blog recalling the fall season, I mentioned all the root vegetables, and now that they were safely stored, it was the time to prepare and market the crops we grew. My father, every Thursday, loaded the two ton truck and headed out to supply his customers with his particular produce. These customers, were Italian and Greek grocers, Chinese restaurants and those who wanted live chickens that could be killed in the kosher traditions. I remember looking at a sack of several chickens, pitying them, being put into the back of the truck, along with the sacks of waxed rutabagas, (turnips) cases of graded eggs, New York dressed chickens, potatoes, and likely red beets as well.
Wednesday was chicken killing day and I was on the chicken plucking staff. Not a fun thing to do, but we never really thought about things being “not to our liking” . It was just something that needed to be done. Someone had made a turnip washer, that tumbled them and dumped them onto a drying rack. They were then hand dipped in melted paraffin wax.. After the wax was set up they were bagged in 50 lb sacks.
These activities were all carried out in the big hipped roof barn, and the cows created the heat for the entire lower level. No carbon footprint there. Upstairs under the hay mow were pens for up to 800 laying hens which also created their own heat,, but on a sunny winter afternoon, they got the southern exposure and they would strut around in their wood shavings doing their extraordinarily triumphant cackling , after having laid their daily egg. (before cages) It has also been recorded that when a very little girl, they would find me trying to feed the kittens, with a mucilage bottle filled with milk.
Supper was often soup and cheese, or home fried potatoes, cold beef, leftovers from the noon meal, which was called dinner. There was no TV, or radio, but the men would go out to bed down the cows with fresh straw for their long night ahead, sleeping in their stanchions, where they had stood all day. Sometimes, I would sit at the long kitchen dinning table to practice my handwriting with my brother Ken. Exciting eh? I really wonder if we dropped some children from today into that scene, what they would do.??
When I was a teenager sometimes , we would get the word that someone’s pasture had flooded and was now frozen and ready to accept skaters. Off we went. Cars were positioned to provide some light. To sail on your skates in the dark cold night, was invigorating to say the least. Now when that good looking fellow who skates so well, asked me to skate it was that much better.!!
During the winter months the ladies, were piecing quilts, hooking rugs, sewing for “relief” for post war poverty in Europe. A common thing to see my Mom do was sitting with a large pan of apples that had been stored in our cold cellar. As she peeled them I was fascinated that she could peel a whole apple and have only one long curly peel left, now I do it without thinking. We ate stewed apples nearly every meal it seemed with a good rustic bran muffin, and a splash of maple syrup, or a whole little bowl of syrup for my Dad. Mom also cleaned and candled eggs to prepare for sale. Always busy it seemed..
I love how the farm provided a sense of belonging, to even the youngest child. Gathering eggs, carrying wood for the stoves were job s for a young child, and learning to clean the eggs,(which I am afraid I grumbled about.) It has been said that good self-esteem comes with tasks well done and more importantly that a child feels he is contributing to the family unit. A sense of purpose and being a part of the whole.
I do not want to live in the past, but I share these thoughts because there is a lot to learn from these experiences.