So far in March 2023, we are experiencing near-record snowfalls here in Minnesota. So far more than 80 inches have fallen, and another big storm is predicted to come this week (March 16-17). Being semi-housebound, I have occupied my time by sorting through papers and organizing files. It is my version of Spring Cleaning. Today I found an assignment written by my first cousin Frieda more than 20 years ago when we had a small writing group meeting at the Methodist Church in Pineville, MO. I thought it was worth sharing as it chronicles the way our shared Grandmother Bunch coped with her life in the 1930s. It was a first draft, so I have lightly edited it for clarity.
Frieda Lines Royer
During my lifetime there were many who, at different times influenced my personality. But perhaps the most prominent model for living was my grandmother with whom I spent much time when growing up. I never heard Granny complain although her life was fraught with tragedies and disappointments. Her oldest of seven children died in France during World War I and her youngest son experienced problems that caused her great heartache—never reaching his potential. She often quoted a Bible verse or sang a hymn that seemed to soothe the pain she felt as she went through the long days of labor which was her role as a farm wife.
Her goal was to provide love and stability to “her” household. She was up at dawn preparing a gourmet breakfast complete with meat from the smokehouse, hot biscuits, home-churned butter, eggs from the chickens she incubated and raised, and numerous condiments from her having canned blackberries, huckleberries, etc. that she gathered from the fields, and woods. Then she milked the cows, strained, and poured the creamy milk into large cans to be picked up by truck. She kept enough for her own use, separating it with a hand-operated machine into skim milk and thick cream.
When the outside chores were finished; it was time to clear the kitchen of breakfast dishes. before the trip to the immense garden where corn, potatoes, onions, and a myriad of other vegetables were gathered to fill the deep-well cooker or the wood-burning stove which held “always ready” soup. Also, “starter” had to be made into bread dough to rise for the rolls or loaves that must be baked at just the right time for dinner. Preparing this big meal of the day for the harvest hands who came in at noon took most of the morning after which came Granny’s only recreation of the day when she lay on the living room floor and listened to the soap opera “Stella Dallas”.
Afternoons could be spent sewing on a pedal machine or gleaning from nature – foods such as hazelnuts and black walnuts or preparing crocks of sauerkraut, pickles, et. For storage in the deep cellar dug into damp cool rocks to keep foods cool. The kerosene lamps had to be filled with oil and the chimneys cleaned. The gas lanterns needed an occasional mantle change so light would be available after sundown. Laundry day came once a week with water boiling in the big kettle over an outdoor fire. All scrubbing was done by hand with a washboard and lye soap which had been made in the same pot. Often, the water left over from boiling “whites” to the shade of snow was used to scrub the rough-hewn log floor of the kitchen. Lye was added to the water to bleach the white oak boards and then followed by many buckets of rinse water carried from the well.
When I am tired and hurting with tasks waiting, I think of times when in spite of a diagnosed heart condition, Granny would chase an errant calf back to the pasture and return to the house saturated with sweat. Recalling her hardships and the courage she possessed give me the willpower to go beyond what I perceive to be my limit (at times!)
Granny was fun to be with and could tell interesting stories such as when they buried the family silverware and wedding rings during the Civil War. Shad had little money because profits were spent mostly on the best of equipment to keep the farm running smoothly. She took extra eggs and cream to the market and spend her cash proceeds to buy treats like bakery-sliced bread and candies for her grandchildren.
She rode to town in the rural mailman’s pick-up (for 10 cents a trip). She loved iced drinks and sometimes would take a gunny sack with her, buy a 50-pound block of ice and, somehow, manage to get it home from the mailbox drop-off more than a mile away from her home. What joy she brought to share with others as she did with Sunday fried chicken dinners for the kids and grandkids who always arrived on time to eat even if they had to walk six miles to the farm. Dishes were washed with well water carried into the house in a bucket and heated on the kitchen stove. They were rinsed and scalded with boiling water before drying on lovingly embroidered feed sack towels.
Lessons learned from my precious grandmother have helped me through many of my life’s crises.