In late Spring, about the time school was out, our chores really increased.
We always had a large garden in order to have plenty of vegetables to eat, and to can. There were very few cans of fruits or vegetables on the shelves of the General Stores. It was my chore to gather the cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, etc. every morning so Mother could make pickles—sweet, sour, and great white stoneware crocks of dill pickles, and big crocks of sourkrout out of the cabbage; sweet red bell peppers, cucumber and green bell pepper relishes. Jars and jars of canned tomatoes, tomato juice, catsup, chili sauce, and red and yellow tomato preserves.
There was always large kettles on the big iron stove, and the delicious smell of spices all through the house. It was Ralph and Harry’s duty to keep the big wood-box in the kitchen filled with wood, for the stove was in use all day long.
After the glass jars were cool, we removed them to the storm cellar. It was lined with shelves, and the colorful glass jars looked just like jewels on the shelves.
Later on in the Spring the blackberries and strawberries began to ripen, and the wild red plums. These grew in thickets so thick one could hardly make a way through them. The plums dropped off the trees—which never grew taller than six feet or so, and the seeds came up year after year until they were a thicket.
Gathering these were Ralph and Harry’s chore.
The plums were not much larger than a large cherry, and were unbelievably sour, but they made wonderful red jelly.
It was my job to gather the strawberries and blackberries every morning. I didn’t mind the strawberries, they were easy, but I hated to gather the blackberries—we had two long rows across the big garden—I think they are the thorniest thing that ever grew– you couldn’t wear gloves—they just got caught on the thorns—and got full of the thorns—so did my hands! In the afternoon I sat under the big oak tree in the front yard, and tried to pick the thorns out of my hands, refusing the help offered by Ralph and Harry.—I told them they picked the thorns out like they were grabbing tree stumps!
My thorn-studded hands distressed Grandma Burns so much she insisted I wear the little white gloves she had bought when my fingers looked so “awful” when the mice bit me, to church. I can’t say they improved my hands as much as they improved the outer appearance.
Along about this time the Mother hens were beginning to hatch the baby chicks. We had three pens of chickens—one of Rhode Island Reds, one of Barred Plymouth Rocks, and one of Buff Orphentons, besides the cages of the “game” chickens—these Dad too care of. There were the Fighting Cocks he shipped to Old Mexico, Spain, and Cuba, where cock fighting was legal. They paid good prices for the fighting cocks, Those chickens were really mean.
It was my duty to gather the eggs (except the game chicken eggs) and Ralph and Harry’s duty to feed the chickens and lock them up at night. The Mother hens and chicks had snakeproof coops, the other chickens were locked in hen houses. There were lots of wild cats in the bottoms—and the edge of the bottoms was only about the distance of a city block and a half from our house.
These were domestic cats that had reverted to a wild state, and were nearly twice as large as the ordinary house cat.
Probably because there was so many rodents in the bottoms to feed on—but they liked chickens and could kill a full grown chicken, I remember them killing one of our hens that had “stollen” her nest out in the clover patch and we couldn’t find her.
By noon we usually had all our chores done—mine also was to do the churning. Our milk cows were Brown Swiss cows. They were larger than Jersey cows, and gave very rich milk. The cream on top was of the pans of milk was thick and rich—it was wonderful spooned over bowls of strawberries or other fruit—or for whipped cream over pies. It made lots of rich butter for the hot biscuits we had ever meal.
We usually spent the afternoons under the oak tree in the front yard, it being too hot to do anything else, until time to do the evening chores. We didn’t mind doing them, all farm children had chores to do, it was a way of life then. And the unbreakable rule was “work before play.”
Jack, our bulldog, was specially trained to stay with and guard us kids, he was always upset, torn between what he thought was his duty to stay with me while I was picking blackberries, or go with Ralph and Harry to gather the wild plums. With the result he wore himself out racing to where they were and back to me, exhausting himself.