R.R. #1, Box 63 Avoca, Iowa 51521
A short time back I was working for a very dear friend of ours, Raligh Woltmann. Raligh has farmed, just out of our town, with his father, ever since he was a small boy.
We got to visiting, as we nailed corrogated tin roofing on one of his buildings. It seems the building we were repairing had a cement floor and Raligh told me that many years ago, when the floor was poured, it was done with a hand mixer and a 8 HP Nelson gas engine. When the local contractor moved from job to job this big engine was pulled by a 6 horse team. He also asked me if I had ever heard steel wheels being pulled through the fresh snow on a cold winter morning. It seems, with the great weight of the engine, the wheels fairly screamed as they were pressed into the snow. It was also common that they could be heard a mile on a clear, cold morning.
I had never heard that, but recalled my dad's wagon, which he called a 'lumber wagon.' It also had steel flat faced wheels and he also farmed with horses. Now and again, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to go with Dad into town, 6 miles away. I can recall how cold it was and how our wheels squeaked as they rolled through the snow. We only made the trip once a month in winter.
We spent the afternoon, as we worked, telling stories about different sounds and smells that one no longer experiences.
How long has it been since the reader walked to country school? I recall my eight years of 'formal education'. It always seemed amazing how our fathers managed to locate the country school house north west from everyone. In the early winter mornings it was always so bitter cold to walk facing N.W. Then, like my friend said, 'It was always warmer at 4:00 when we walked home, with that wind at our back.'
One thing I always enjoyed hearing, especially in the morning, was the singing telephone and high line wires, along the county road. For the reader who has never heard this, I think the song put out by Glen Campbell, 'The Wichita Lineman', just about fills the bill. The sound made by the instruments is very close. However, each wire had its own key, or note. This was caused by the bare wires, cold, and the wind blowing across them.
On a cold winter morning the smell of coal smoke in the distance from the furnace in the school was quite comforting. We knew we could 'make it'' before our noses and fingers fell off.
We were very poor, 'money wise', especially during the Great Depression. There were eight children in my family. I recall my mother sewing overalls for me, using the 'good back legs' from the men's worn out overalls. I recall when the lady came from the County with a big box of powdered milk, canned meat, and the largest oranges and grapefruits I had ever seen. My goodness! Those grapefruits were almost as big as my head. But most of all, she brought three new red plaid coats, all alike and in three different sizes-one for me, one for brother, and another for sister. And what fine coats they were. To have a 'store bought winter coat' and with a zipper to boot!
Along about that time, the 'snoopie cap' was very popular. 'All the good pilots wore one.' Mr. Lindbergh wore a leather one when he made his great flight. Mother made one for me out of blue denim and lined it with cotton flannel. That was such a nice warm hat, my ears never did get cold.
But to move on to summer and other sounds, etc. I recall lying in my bed on a hot summer night. We had blown out the kerosene lamp and the full moon sent its light through the open windows. It was 'most as bright as day.' Then just a bit later the coyotes began their song to the moon. We always had a dog and he would answer, bark for bark.
Living on a farm was a fine experience in those days. I still go back, every few years, to the 'home place'. There is nothing left but the well that was in front of the house. Dad always came in, whistling, to water the team at that well, when the day was done.
Sundown was chore time for us little kids. Often I think of the soft noses of the horses and the sound they made when we came near with a bucket of oats. Dad always loved his horses and we would 'see to it' they were fed and watered.
It was nice to walk through the hay meadow in haying time and smell the sweet smell of the various sorts of hay. We had what Dad called 'prairie hay'. It was a slightly red leaf at the time it was to be cut and stacked. My dad was considered a 'professional' at stacking and went from neighbor to neighbor. I would carry drinking water on our place. This was in a glass gallon jug with a new burlap sack tied around with baler or binder twine.
The sounds of the meadow lark trying to lead you away from the nest; the sweet smell of hay and of flowers was something to behold. I can still close my eyes and hear the click! click! of the rachet on the wheels of a stacker. Of course, there was always one new colt running alongside, which gave something to play with.
My wife is from Denmark and recalls a bird they called a lark. She tells me this bird would fly way up and sing, up there to its mate, who was somewhere in the grass sitting faithfully on her nest. My wife tells me they have such a beautiful song.
I asked my dad why he chose to be a farmer, thinking of all the troubles they have, just surviving. He told me he really didn't know except that, in the spring, he just couldn't wait to till the soil. He said the smell of freshly turned soil 'got into one's blood', he guessed. I think I can relate to that, because even though we live in town, we have a garden. I, too, enjoy the sweet smell of freshly turned soil.
My mother was English, my father was Czech. They are both gone now, some 15 and 20 years respectively. I miss many things about my parents. Mother wore print dresses and full aprons with ruffles all the way around. Her hair was usually done in a bun on the back of her head. I can still see the sweat on her forehead as she worked preparing our Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner over a wood burning kitchen range. Her kitchen was a veritable paradise of smells the day before a holiday. She would make plum pudding in a white cloth hanging over a kettle of boiling water. This was the way she steamed the loaf. The sweet lemon sauce or 'gravy' that each slice had poured over it, when served, was a rare delicacy. My dad always smacked his lips and went on about it being so tasty. The main thing was the mixed odors coming from sage dressing and all the good things Mother cooked, mingled with the smell of wood smoke.
I recall the clucking sound the old mother hen made to call the chicks when she wanted them to scratch for food. Those little yellow fuzz balls looked so cute scratching with first one foot, then another.
There are many, many more sounds, smells and things we could see, but I'd best stop now, or this will not be a 'short story.'