On cold winter nights, when the blizzards howled around the house—like a “banshee” was the way Aunt Em described the wailing winds—and the snow piled high—we sat on the braided rugs around the big fireplace.
Dad usually made a big bowl of popcorn for us. Ralph collected all the “baling wire” from the used bales of hay, and with a pair of pliars, bent the wire into shapes of all kinds of animals.
Mother sewed or worked on quilts—there was always one in the frame.
Dad wrote articles for several farm magazines—”Prosperous Famer,” “Cappers,” etc., as well as an occasional article for hunting and outdoor magazines, and for the Trenton Tribune. It had originally been called “Trenton Review” and was the first newspaper in Trenton, founded by Dad’s and Aunt Laura’s first cousin, Harry Diggs. Aunt Laura was typesetter for the early paper, before she became Post Mistress. Dad was Assistant Post Master. He wrote articles for the Trenton Tribune up until a few years before he died.
Tom Holmes, son of Dr. W.C. Holmes, related to Grandma Burns, bought the paper from Harry Diggs, and changed the name to Trenton Tribune.
Throughout the winters, the fire in the big fireplace never went out. Late in the evening Dad would put a big hardwood “backlog” in the fireplace—in the very back. It, along with wood placed in front of it—would burn all evening. Then, at bedtime, Dad would heap ashes over it, the next morning it would be a big mound of red hot coals. This kept the living room from getting chilled—Dad would take a shove-shovel full of the red hot coals to the kitchen to start the fire in the big iron cookstove. Of course, no one had natural gas then. And we, being two miles out in the country, didn’t have electricity—not may homes in town had it. They used kerosene lamps as we did.
It was Ralph and Harry’s chore to bring in enough wood for the fireplace—except the big backlogs which were too heavy for them, and Dad took care of those—and for the big stove in the kitchen. It was my duty to bring in the kindling. Dutch was too young and so was never expected to do any chores. Often the snow was knee deep for days at a time.
Winter or summer, we did our chores. They had to be done daily, and Dad couldn’t do all of them. There was much more to be done in the summer, tho, because of all the garden and fruit canning, etc. But, the chickens had to be fed and ice broken on their drinking water, eggs gathered—but there were not as many eggs in the winter. Often they would be frozen solid! We were used to being out in the cold and snow, for we had to walk the two miles to school every morning and home in the evening on school days. Except during a severe blizzard when there was no school.
Of course, we were bundled up and dressed warmly, and suffered no ill effects from the cold. Every night before going to bed Dad went out to the big barn to be sure the milk cows and mules—we didn’t have any horses—were safe and warm in their stalls, and had plenty hay for the long, cold night. Stock was very valuable then and was well cared for. A farm couldn’t be run without the mules. No one had tractors then. Mules did all the work.
I remember the first car I ever saw or rode in. It belonged to the mailman on our route. His name was Sparkman—his nickname was “Strawberry.” He had red hair and a very florid face—probably because he was out in all kinds of weather delivering the mail. But he never delivered it in his beloved little red car! He was a close friend of Dad’s. And would come out to our house on Sundays and take us kids for a ride.
It frightened the horses half to death, and there was many a run-a-way—and angry farmers—when their teams ran away, overturning wagons, scattering contents all along the roads. So “Strawberry” only drove his car on Sundays when there wasn’t likely to be any wagons with produce on the roads. When he did see a wagon coming, he would pull off the road and wait until the wagon was well past before starting the car again. Most farmers considered the car an infernal, no good contraption which wouldn’t last long, and go the way of other new-fangled gagets—the sooner the better—and no sane man would want one, anyway, much less ride in one of the dangerous things at such high speeds. I think it’s top speed was about 20 miles an hour—in those days of wagon travel– 20 miles an hour was “break-neck” speed, and living dangerously.
Grandma Burns refused to set foot in such a thing. And, I’m sure, must have said a prayer to our Guardian Angels when any of us kids “took our lives in our hands” and went for a ride in the little red car.