Summer at the Big Farm

Katy remembers a summer spent with
her grandparents in the 1890s.

The best vacation I ever had was spent at my grandparent's Big Farm. I'd been sickly all winter and Ma thought I'd pick up better at the farm away from the town heat. With Grandma to take care of me and plenty of sweet milk, fresh air, and good food, I couldn't help but get well.

I remember it all so clearly for I was the only grandchild to stay all summer. Aunt Min's and Aunt Mary's children visited for a few days now and then, and Aunt Bea's children came over from the next farm nearly every day.

I slept in the trundle bed all Grandma's children had slept in. It rolled under her big four-poster bed during the day and was pulled out at night. I could lie there listening to the creak of the rockers on the side porch as Grandpa, Grandma and Uncle Bert relaxed before their bed-time. And I woke to the sound of Uncle Bert shaking down the stove to get the fire going for Grandma to cook the oatmeal, hot cakes, eggs and bacon with fried potatoes, coffee, pie and cookies that would be our breakfast.

After breakfast I'd help Grandma wash up the dishes, gather eggs (my job was to hunt for "hidden nests" in the hedges while Grandma collected eggs from the henhouse), or help spread clothes on the lawn to whiten if it was wash day. Later I'd play with my china-headed dolls under the big oaks in the side-yard if I wasn't watching Grandpa in his carpenter shop or following Uncle Bert as he worked in the barns. Sometimes Grandma and I would go berrying and make short-cake or pies for supper.

My Grandma believed girls should have a "stint" to do every day and more practical than the embroidery Ma had me working on. So I began my first quilt that summer and many's the stitch I picked out and re-sewed to suit her eye. The quilt was doll sized and made of scraps from Grandma's piece-bag. Each scrap had a story about the garment it came from and I learned much about my family in the process. I learned button-holing and felled seams, too, and practiced them on the doll clothes we made for my Minerva and Lucy.

We had all kinds of garden stuff to eat and there were lots of chickens in the barnyard to make roast or fried chicken, and mouth-watering pies. Sometimes we'd have green peas and new potatoes in milk for supper. After picking a basketful of peas, Grandma and I would raid the potato patch, digging our fingers into the hills and teasing out a few small tubers from each.

On lazy afternoons, Grandpa and I might go down to the stream to catch and clean a mess of fish which Grandma would roll in cornmeal and fry for supper. My, those were good with fresh bread, sweet butter, carrots which only hours before had been growing in the garden, and some of Grandma's tangy pickles.

When the first corn got ripe, we had a corn-roast. Pa and Ma drove out from town late in the afternoon to spend the night and Aunt Bea and Uncle Lonzo were there with all their children. Uncle Bert and Uncle Lonzo were the cooks (the women folks had fried chicken and made potato salad and cakes but that didn't count). We went right down to the corn field where a fire had been built at the edge of the grove and the corn, still in the husks, put to roast on a grill over it. Grandma prefered field corn to the new sweet variety, but whichever you ate, it dripped sweet butter and folks argued over whether to salt or not. We sat on blankets, tree stumps, and logs (Grandma had her rocking chair), and ate till we groaned. washing it all down with cold buttermilk or hot coffee.

Grandpa had his own ice house which Uncle Bert and Uncle Lonzo filled with ice cut from the stream every winter. As one result, we could have the great treat of ice cream in the summer. Grandma would cook up a batch of vanilla custard and maybe add strawberries to it and Uncle Bert would pack it in the hand-freezer and crank and crank. Somehow Aunt Bea's children always seemed to know when Grandma was making ice cream for before it was nearly frozen, they'd all be there, watching. We'd dish it up in our blue bowls and while we were eating that, Uncle Bert would freeze the chocolate custard Grandma had ready. Often Uncle Lonzo appeared to take his turn at cranking. The older boys weren't unwilling to lend a hand in the cause either.

Grandma didn't have a refrigerator or even an icebox but she did have the spring room. Grandpa had built it of brick and stone with stone shelves in the walls and water running through hollow cyprus logs from the spring on the hill. It ran constantly into a barrel and then through a trough in the stone floor, out to the dry well. Crocks of butter, pans of cream and pitchers of milk sat on the shelves along with bowls of eggs and a piece of meat for the next meal. A little girl could go there for a cold drink and hear the crystal song of the spring water splashing into the barrel, sniff the faint perfume of berries and butter and feel the cold, moist air on sun-hot cheeks.

I got quite well and strong that summer, plump, too, and brown from the sun. I was always forgetting my sunbonnet and Uncle Bert would tease me with:

"Katy, that red hair of yours will catch fire if you don't wear your bonnet."

Ma fussed over my brown face and arms as she let out my waistbands and let down my hems that fall. The brown soon faded to a few freckles over my nose as a rememberence of my summer at the Big Farm.