Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Touching the past

This is one of those blog entries I'm doing mainly for myself, to get my memories down before I lose them.  It may be of little interest to others, but it's useful to me.

In my cow-milking stories, I have mentioned that we bought our first milk cow from my parents.  I have not, however, explained how and why they happened to have milk cows.  They weren't farmers, although they were both raised on the farm.  When they met, around 1930, Mother was a "hired girl" doing housework and cooking on a farm, and daddy was a "hired man" doing farm chores and taking care of whatever seasonal work the crops demanded.  But in my childhood, they were always the telephone operators, "Central", in various small communities.  Then modern telephone service was implemented, putting them both out of a job.  Daddy worked as a hired hand at a farm near Eagleville for less than a year, and Mother worked at a dry goods store in town.  I'm pretty sure they were having trouble making ends meet, and that's when they moved to Kansas City, settling first in Harlem.

Daddy worked for Alton Box in North Kansas City, almost from the time we moved.  He was with that company until he retired.  Mother worked in a couple of different factories in "Northtown".  In 1962, Alton Box moved to Blue Springs, Missouri, so my parents sold their house in the Crestview subdivision and bought a house in rural Blue Springs near Adams Dairy.  I rented an apartment in Kansas City and rode the bus to my job at National Bellas Hess.  

The house my parents bought was on a good-sized lot on R.D. Mize Road, and they started gardening again for the first time in many years.  Across the road from them was an old two-story farmhouse on forty or more acres owned by a very rich guy, Mr. Gilkey.  He had bought the place as an investment, anticipating the growth that Blue Springs would eventually experience.  Various renters occupied that house, and the land sat idle.  My parents somehow became acquainted with Mr. Gilkey and got permission to do some gardening over there on his land, in addition to what they did in their yard.  

They got really carried away with the garden.  In addition to the usual green beans, sweet corn, potatoes and tomatoes, they raised popcorn and dry beans and all manner of labor-intensive stuff they hadn't messed with in years.  They found themselves enjoying this activity so much that they sold their house and moved into Mr. Gilkey's rental house!  This gave them access to a barn and a chicken house, and who would want those buildings to go to waste?  Not my parents.  They decided to get back to their roots.  By this time Mother was selling Avon door to door, a job that seemed custom-made for a gregarious woman like her.  It was also a job that gave her time and freedom to do lots of stuff around home, because there weren't any certain hours she had to work.  She was often the top-selling agent in her territory, so it was a good niche for her.

Around that same time, in 1965, my mom's mother died.  I think it was right after that they bought a flock of laying hens from a hatchery, and a couple of bred heifers from an Avon customer.  Mother made butter and canned like crazy and made jams and jellies.  There was an old pear orchard on the Gilkey place, and she made pear honey and pear pies and canned pears.  They bought a pig to take care of the extra milk and garden scraps. 

She even made Lye soap.  I remember one time she did something wrong with it, making the soap, and she said, "Well Mom, I should have listened to you."

It had something to do with the sort of fat she used making the soap, or the quantity, but it's this memory, that very moment, the way she talked to her departed mother, that made me realize that all this old-fashioned stuff she was doing was just a way of feeling close to her mom.  She had a milk cow, like grandma always did (although my dad did most of the milking); she had the chickens.  She was raising things in the garden that she remembered Grandma growing when she was a kid.  She was touching the past.  

This phase didn't last all that long, maybe a couple of years, which is how we ended up with Suzie, the milk cow; also the milk strainer I still use.  By the way, Cliff was the one who was going to milk the cow when we bought her, because I had tried milking Grandma's cow when I visited as a kid, and I couldn't figure it out.  We hadn't had the cow a week before I was doing the milking, but really, it was because I wanted to.  I loved milking.  I still do.  

By this time we had bought our 20 acres south of Oak Grove.  Looking back I realize I had begun touching the past like my mom had.  My favorite place to visit when I was growing up was Grandma's house.  I'd follow her to the barn when she went to milk Patsy.  One of my cousins says Grandma milked outside in the barn lot, and I recall her milking in the barn, with Patsy's head in a stanchion.  Another cousin, who lived right down the road from Grandma, said she sometimes milked outside, sometimes in the barn, so that explains the different memories we have.  Grandma kept chickens, too, and I liked to gather the eggs.  

People who were raised on the farm and were forced to milk cows as children always ask me, "Why would you want to milk a cow?"  

Because I never had to as a kid.  

But seriously, the motley crew of animals around here on this funny-farm we call home, that weedy garden, my recipe for noodles?  All that is just me, touching the past.

Here's an interesting side note:  Mr. Gilkey died decades ago, but that place he owned still sits idle.  It's almost directly behind the Blue Springs Walmart, and by now must be worth millions.  Somebody is still holding that investment and waiting for the right time, I suppose. 


I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

Touching the past is a wonderful thing when you have some good things to remember.

Paula said...

Interesting. I didn't have to milk a cow either as a kid. My brother wanted to teach me and mama wouldn't let him. She thought he wanted to shirk his duty. The thing I remember most is the broken cup he would squirt milk in for the cat.

Sister--Three said...

Holding on to the past helps you remember who you are!

ingasmile said...

I love to touch the past. Remembering my Mother and Grandparents. I bake cobblers, can, pick berries and other fruit, garden, pick mushrooms and it makes me feel like I am still with them. When I make the black raspberry cobbler the smell can bring tears to my eyes!