R I Box 63 Avoca, Iowa 51521
Farming has never been easy. During the Great Depression and early 1930's, this would have been a monumental understatement! I recall a few things myself and have talked to some of my older friends. One incident I recall was that already then, I had respiratory problems. The doctors of that day didn't understand allergies etc. and would say, 'it's all in your head.' Nevertheless, I could not breathe through my nose as a boy of possibly 4 or 5 years old. I was constantly running with my mouth open in order to breathe. One day in such a situation, a chinch bug flew up before me and into my mouth. They were a small black bug, but small or no had a terrible flavor and odor. I spit for half an hour before finally getting free of the awful taste. I recall friends telling of the waves of these bugs crossing a corn field. The bugs would envelop a stalk of young tender corn, then the top would slowly begin to topple over and fall as the bugs worked their way across a field. It was said that one could see the wave of corn slowly fall.
My father would take his single bottom plow and make a furrow across the wave of bugs' path. In our case, it was oat and wheat fields. He would pour some solution in this furrow. As the bugs would topple in they were supposedly killed by this liquid. Later, he would set the furrow on fire. The smoke would roll and that also made a terrible smell.
Some of the farmers would erect a barrier of black building felt paper. Then, every so far, dig a post hole in front of the barrier, filling this hole with creosote or diesel fuel. The chinch bugs were to fall in this hole when reaching the paper barricade. It was not taken into consideration that they also could fly Many millions of bugs were killed in the trenches and pits. However, many millions also flew over the barricades and continued on across the fields annihilating what crop was left.
Eventually, the dry weather was broken by rain. The chinch bugs evidently thrive only in hot dry weather. Or one might say the Lord felt the lesson he wished to teach had been completed.
During these hard times, I recall it being unbearably hot. The south wind was parching. There wasn't a lot of shade although our farmstead had what we thought was an abundance of shade trees. Another thing that entered into it was the people of Oklahoma had evidently plowed every available acre of pasture and hillside in order to plant. I recall, vaguely, on some days the air was filled with dust, when the wind was from the south. Looking up the hill from our house to the east, there seemed to be a fog or haze in the air.
My mother was a fine, clean housekeeper. I recall she would fuss because aside from her other work, she was continually dusting. It seemed everything became full of dust. In order to try to cool the air she would take white cloth, dip it in water, squeeze it out, then she would hang these over the open kitchen windows. When the hot wind blew through them they afforded a cooling effect for only a short time. She said the reasoning was to try to keep down the dust, most of all, 'that we can have a decent meal.' I recall at times the food became somewhat gritty. When she would remove the cloth it would be a light brown on the outer side.
When one thinks of the hardships of the farmer of that day compared to now, we might say, even under the current administration, we are almost in seventh Heaven.
How disheartening it would be to get up before dawn to do chores. Then after the cows were milked, all animals were fed, and the cream separated, one came to breakfast. After eating, it was to the field with a full day with the horses. At evening to come in to chores of half the night. That is to say nothing of the wife who cared for the house, children, and still raised a large garden and possibly 1000 chickens. My mother would can 40 quarts of beets, peas, corn, and have often times 20 rows of potatoes. She had once had a runaway with a team and buggy. She was thrown out and landed on her behind with my small sister in her lap and arms. She spent a lifetime of pain in her back. There was no treatment at that time, and actually there is none today. However, she bore eight children and would hoe a large part of that garden by hand each summer. When we kids became large enough, we would help.
The grasshoppers came! There were many stories about them. The one I like best was by a fellow named Ernie Pyle. I read his book just a few years ago. He told of traveling across Kansas and Oklahoma in his Model A Ford. He said the grasshoppers were so bad along the highway he was required to stop every five miles or so to clean out the air holes in his radiator. The Ford would boil if not kept clean. I recall how thick they were. If I would walk through the weeds there would be a cloud of them come up before me of all sizes. They would also end up in one's mouth if it was open. However, I was possibly 6 years old by then and had long since learned to protect my mouth.
It was amusing to watch Mother's chickens as they caught and ate the hoppers. The old hen became confused as she would catch one, a better one hopped by, and she would greedily let that one go to chase another one, etc. Their craws were so full of hoppers they could hardly move. These bugs also ate the corn, green wheat and oats, not to mention Mother's beautiful garden!
One or two years, about 1937 or 1938 I recall, we had the most beautiful potato plants. Then the potato bugs came out of nowhere. My Dad always worked hard planting potatoes. He did this on a Saturday or Sunday with a walking plow and his favorite team of horses. There was no time during the week, for that time was designated for field work. I never could understand how he could handle the walking plow; with the lines over one shoulder and under one arm he controlled the team. He would plow the first furrow and then potatoes were dropped in the second row, etc. When the plants grew the rows were straight, as well as perfectly spaced to fit his single row cultivator. Of course, we were required to hoe between plants in each row. The potato bugs were so bad Dad made wooden paddles. Each of us would go down the row with a 5 gallon pail and pat the bush to jar the bugs off into the pail. Shortly we little kids couldn't carry our pails because one-fourth full was too heavy. We would reach over and Mom or Dad would dump them into their container and on we'd go. Dad poured oil in the pails and burned the bugs. There were always more next day. Eventually the bugs became so bad Dad bought some lead arsenate at the local grain elevator. This he mixed with wood ashes and water. This was dribbled onto the potato plants with a wad of cloth wrapped about a stick. This product was deadly poison and was not to be gotten on the hands. It is no longer on the market.
Our religious training from our parents was very subtle. I recall my Dad's stories that he told after being to the village. If a certain person imbibed too heavily of the spirits, it was said that 'he will receive his just reward'. If a dishonest deal was told of someone, 'God would not look kindly on that person'. I first learned of the Book of Ruth by hearing the story on an old battery radio my older sister got in 1935.
One moonlit summer evening my youngest sister and I, after going to bed, saw a tall fire in a meadow about 2 miles southwest of our upstairs bedroom window. We knew the dangers of fire and ran down to tell Dad. 'Oh,' he said, 'it's probably just the Klan burning their cross.' We were to go to bed and be quiet. Next day I asked why the Klan burned a cross. 'Well,' he said, 'they is having a meeting probably.' 'What for?' I wanted to know. 'Oh, if somebody does something bad, like beat up on his woman, they give him a beatin' and warn him, God don't hold with that sort.' Naturally as a child I thought what a fine organization that must be. Eventually I read books on 'the Klan' and changed my mind.
As all children of that day, I went to country school. Some years we would have a wonderful teacher who would be strict but fair and loving. Other years we would not fare so well. Mother and Dad always stressed that we have respect for the teacher for she had education. Also, if we got in a fight at school we'd get a whipping at home. This worked well for a time. Eventually someone's Dad would brag that his kid could lick every kid in school. After that it became difficult to survive. I recall once having a not so nice teacher. It seems the author did some misdemeanor. Her chosen punishment was to ridicule the student by facing him into a corner with a dunce cap placed upon his head. This was terribly degrading. It was felt the punishment did not fit the crime. As one stands in such a predicament, there is time to think. I decided to make light of the situation. I raised one leg, proceeded to look over my shoulder at the audience with a forced look on my face and issue a loud noise with my mouth. There were 16 or 18 children of all ages and grades in the room. To say, in terms of nowadays, that everyone 'cracked up'' would be a gross understatement. The teacher never tried to discipline any students in that manner again that year.
At home once, when a small boy, my mother had also set me on a chair facing into the corner. When it came time to eat, I refused to leave the chair. I missed my dinner but never sat in a corner again. I imagine I may have been 5 or 6 years old at the time.
My father was a strange man. He dearly loved the soil and all things connected with it. However, he would never allow any of his 5 boys to become farmers. When I left home the first time, I had just completed the 8th grade. My primary interest was a job to make money for overalls. I've worked in all sorts of jobs but to this day know very little of the art of farming.
In closing, another note comes to mind. It is written in the Holy Bible that we are to work very hard here on Earth for there is no work nor any discerning after going to the grave. Also not to store up any earthly treasures for they will do us no good later on.
I wonder if this was written especially for people like those of my parents' day? It seems our schoolbooks only propose one idea also in our day, that is to 'seek great wealth' for nothing else counts. Sometimes a thing such as even progress can be carried too far.