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  • Sandra Cesca

Childhood Summers on the Farm

As soon as school was out for the summer, we knew what that meant. Trips to my cousins’ Wisconsin dairy farm from our hot Chicago suburb. There were three cousins older than me and my two brothers. Also living there were my aunt and uncle who were the dairy farmers, and my grandparents. We had so much fun doing what we could never do in the city. And some which we shouldn’t have done in the country!

Although these photos are really old, you get the picture of what we loved. Rides on the tractor always fascinated us. When you grow up on a farm you learn to drive a tractor at an early age. Back then, the men ran machinery, while the women planted gardens, canned everything edible, and plucked chickens. Cousin Bob drove the tractor while us kids stood on any safe part of it as we bounced along out to the fields where my uncle would be waiting to hook it up to some other piece of complicated machinery.

Sometimes we’d head out to the field to bring in the cows. This was around 5 pm, milking time. My uncle milked all 20 cows by hand until he finally got a milking machine. We were allowed to watch and sometimes try our hand at milking. I could never get the hang of it. I was scared of hurting the cow and of the cow hurting me. They were huge and had four nasty hooves. Our reward for helping was a shot of warm milk into our mouths. The barn cats benefited from this activity as well. The milk was poured into metal milk cans and set in the cement water cooler until the milk truck stopped to collect the day's results.

The layout of the farm was similar to most in the area. Barn with hay loft for hiding in, house with front yard and tire swing, chicken coop, silo for grain storage, wood lot, duck/pig pond, and of course, the garden. Having lived through the Great Depression, my relatives were big on gardens for supplying the bulk of their food for the entire year. My aunt and grandma canned everything, including chicken and meat. Little did I know then how nutritious and better-tasting that homegrown food was. Two of my favorites were spiced whole peaches and dilly beans made with fresh dillweed. My uncle used to tell us how the raccoons came to raid the corn patch and were so bold they even knocked on the backdoor asking for salt!

As kids, we were fascinated by everyday life on the farm and the experiences we had that are still with us today. Like what happens when it’s time to kill some chickens. When one of the men announced at breakfast that it was chicken day, we kids were sent to catch some hens. If you have never done this, it is not only almost impossible but also hilarious. Once caught, the hen went to the chopping block, an old tree stump, where they would be placed and my uncle or cousin would take the ax and whack off its head, toss it on the ground, and watch it jump around headless until it died. This image is still burned in my brain to this day. Next the hens would be dipped into hot water for easier plucking of the feathers. We helped with this, too. I must say, however, that those were tasty chickens which were served up as stew with dumplings, veggies from the garden, and finished off with a piece of apple or peach pie. Ahhh, the country life.

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