Wednesday, May 14, 2008
First Grade Time by Karl W. Jansen
Seems like my memory starts at about this time, but I have lots of little items of that year.
We lived close to Norway, Kansas in an old farm house for about one year. Not our farm. We were about 2 miles from town by the short cut lane and three and a half miles by road. We walked to school most of the time. Dad came home one day with a car, so we got to ride some. When the car would run the Hammer twin boys would walk to our house and drive the car. They were high school guys. We would pick up other kids along the way. We didn't have the car very long. I don't know whether Dad was buying it or won it in a crap game. He won a neat twenty gauge shot gun once. He worked for a Doctor on his farm. One day he towed 2 old cars from the dump by a team of horses. He had picked these two because they were the same make and model and the idea was to make one out of two. This is when my cussing vocabulary just exploded! I spent a lot of time watching Dad work on those cars. I think they were Baby Overlands. After a considerable time the united car ran. Not fast, but it did run.
Dad made home brew in the basement. The house was built on a hillside and the door to the basement was on the south side and you entered from the outside as a walk in. One time Dad experimented in wine making. He capped the bottles with his beer capper. After a few days they began to explode. We would be sitting upstairs and hear a loud bang, 'there goes another one'. I think we counted all of them. I only remember having one toy; it was a cast iron roadster about a foot long. Steel wheels that turned. The hood had a knob on it, probably the water filler. I had a string tied to that and pulled over a network of roads around the yard and through the trees. We didn't have any grass. What ground cover we had was goat-head stickers. We got a new bicycle, but I wasn't allowed to get on it. Dad brought home an old bike frame, no handle bars or seat. He had some baby buggy wheels for it and a piece of a broom stick for steering. I coasted from the upper front yard down and around the house and ended up at the basement door.
When anyone wanted to go to the basement they had to come out the kitchen door down a walkway of rock slabs. Better than mud. One day Jack took a short cut. He jumped off the top step towards the lower end of the house into the clothes line area. One of the line ends, number 9 wire, was sticking up and stabbed him in the belly. It looked like a lot of stuff was about to fall out, but I guess it didn't. I wonder how many remember the scar across his belly. It looked like a big long night-crawler.
This is the place where we lived when Jack and I 'hanged' Martha. All I really did was hold the chair and then hide it. Jack was the sheriff. (This is covered in another blog.)
One of the things all the guys had was a slingshot. Not just a toy, a real meat-getter! Doves were pretty easy game and tasty, too. We wasted a lot of rocks on squirrels. I don't think we hurt their population much. I don't know though, that was the year Jack got the single-shot twenty two.
When I had to put new rubbers on my sling shot, I would wrap the end of the rubber around the wood crotch or leather rock pocket and Mother would wrap the string around and around and tie it. I don't remember her hand as a hindrance. The ties stayed until the rubber broke. She told me the reason that she bought my bib overalls so long in the legs was so she could then fit them to me, cut off the excess leg material and save it for patching. We were all marble players so knees wore out. She also taught me how to patch. Turn the rough edges for neatness.
It was about here that I got my first high top boots. Mother's brother, Fred, gave them to me for Christmas. One boot had a pocket for a knife. My first knife, too. Another thing I shared with Mom was the taste of clabbered milk. I think Mom and I got it all. No fridge so we had lots. We didn't have electricity.
Sometimes when I brought in the eggs one would be cracked and Mom would hold it on end and make a hole in it. Then stand it in the hole on top of the stove, where the lifter stuck in to lift the lid, and cook it. I think she always split with me. Good, a little salt and pepper.
I said we had no fridge, but we had a sort of one. It consisted of an orange crate wrapped in lots of burlap sacks. It was attached over a kitchen window outside. You opened the window by sliding it up to the top and it would lock on pins in the side. Then you could open the orange crate drop door and reach in and get the milk, eggs, and butter. The burlap had to be kept damp for it to work. The only source of water that we had was the stock tank by the windmill. The wind blew most of the time so the water was good. The tank was around a hundred feet from the house connected by a dirt path with goat-head stickers. Beside the windmill was the barn and corncrib. The only time we had running water in the house was when we were out the door on the way to school and Mom would holler, "I need water for the house." The three of us would grab our pails and rush to the tank, dunk the pails and run back. Then drop off the pails on the front stoop and run some of the two miles school to make up for lost time.
I don't know who owned the corn crib, but we used a lot of the corn. There was a 'one ear at a time' sheller by the crib that we used a lot. One person cranked it, one put the ear in the top and the other held the tote sack over the outlet spout. Then we carried a tote sack of corn and a tote pack of cobs for cooking, a quick hot fire. Our 'three-kid-team'. I don't remember how we ground the corn but Mom would make a big slug of cornmeal mush for breakfast and what was left over she molded into a long round loaf. She would cut it into one inch slices and fry them in butter or bacon grease for dinner. There was always a little can of bacon grease on the cook stove. A little cloth on a short stick stuck in the bacon grease can was a swab to grease the pan.
Another thing the corn crop was used for was filling a big sack with the husks. That was our mattress. It had to be renewed occasionally as the husks would flatten and get hard.
Little things come to mind like when Jack talked Martha into sticking her hand in a hole in a tree we had seen a squirrel go into. 'Catch him Mart'. The squirrel objected and I think that was a one time happening. And the time Jack rode the neighbor's horse home and went in the house to get a snack. I snuck around the house, got on the horse and rode down the lane. I knew Jack would not appreciate this so I urged the old horse to hurry back. Jack stepped out from behind a tree and threw his hands up and hollered! Scared the horse, he jumped to one side and slammed on his brakes. I sailed off and lit on my head. Life has been funny ever since.
Getting the second coal oil lamp was great. We could sit around the dining room table and read or put jigsaw puzzles together at night while Mom worked in the kitchen.
It was possibly the first radio that Dad got while we lived there. It was battery powered. About all I remember of it was some squealing and static.
We had a dog named Bounce. A real bulldog, he had a talent for fighting. Any dog he tangled with was lucky to live. He was real protective of us kids. If Dad wanted to give one of us a spanking, he had to shut Bounce in the bedroom. Once Jack, Martha and I caught a big bull snake and we wrapped it around Bounce's neck. We thought the snake would try to get away, but he tightened his curl and we about panicked. We got the snake by the head and tail and unwound him. We were taught not to kill bull snakes. They were rodent hunters. They would also get in a hen's nest and swallow an egg.
Mom used to give me advice, like, don't drink anything while you are eating, especially cold liquids. She told us not to eavesdrop on the party-line phone. Yep, we had a telephone. Our identification ring was one long and two short rings.
Mom always baked bread on Monday. She also washed clothes that day. The reason for the double task was to utilize the top of stove heat for water and the oven heat for baking bread. She made enough bread for the week, and the treat was the three or four dozen buns. Better than cake when topped with butter and honey.
Saturday night was bath night. We took turns using the wash tub and the water. I remember that ring around the top of the tub was murder on the back bone. We took our baths in the kitchen by the stove when the weather was cold. It was easy to conserve on water when we had to carry it in pails from the stock tank barefooted. I never did like going barefooted on rocky paths with goat-head stickers.
I'm going to wind this up with a little peek at our play time. Hammers down the lane had a better hill in their pasture than we did. It was great for tire fun. As I was the smallest they would hold the tire up and I would curl up in the center. They would give me a quick push down the hill. The pasture fence was barbed wire with big cottonwoods for posts. Always felt lucky when I didn't hit a tree instead of the fence. It was a little hard on the fence.
It must have been summer when cholera went into the pig population and the farmers had to kill all of them and bury them. Hammers didn't bury theirs very deep, they were enormous pigs. They got a little uncovered and we used them for trampolines. We would jump from one to the other down the line. I don't remember any of them bursting.
I'll leave you with that glimpse of a kid's life in rural Kansas.