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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Great Depression Comes

We moved back to the country when the Big Depression hit at the close of the Twenties.  Dad got laid off at the Fisher Body plant and could not find another job in Kansas City so he headed back to the hills to try farming again.  With no money to invest in land and equipment, the best my father could do at the time was to go to work for someone else as a tenant farmer.  It was back to the outhouse, the kerosene lamps, and splitting and carrying wood for the stoves—not to speak of baths in that washtub by the cookstove.

We lived on about five different farms between 1930 and ‘33 or ‘34.  One, I believe the first after Kansas City, was a small farm a couple miles out of Greenfield, that belonged to a man named Earl Wilson.  I remember Wilson lived in a big yellow house right on the edge of Greenfield.  From the three-room little farm house where we lived, us kids walked down a dirt road quite a way to another one-room country schoolhouse.  It needed paint so bad that it was just a weathered grey sitting under spreading oak trees.

One reason I remember that dirt road is that at the foot of the hill from our house a branch (a stream too small to call a creek) ran under the road through a culvert.  Just below the culvert there was a pool where Richard and I taught ourselves to swim.  At least we dogpaddled around in it.  The pool in that branch seemed like a pretty good swimming hole to us little boys, but I was back there fifty years later [I was with him] and went by to look at it.  The branch must have shrunk or something because that “swimming hole” seemed hardly big enough to water a couple of cows!

We did not stay long at the Earl Wilson place.  I am sure that my father was not at all happy working as a hired hand.  He found a fair-sized farm a few miles north of Bona near Fair Play, Missouri.  It belonged to a doctor named Hunt so we always called it “the Doc Hunt place.”  It had a small weathered farmhouse, smokehouse, well with a cast-iron pump in the yard, chicken house, and outhouse.  The grey weathered sprawling barn was pretty old, but my father made it do for the mismatched team of myules he got and for several milk cows.
Doc Hunt place circa 1952

While we lived on the Doc Hunt place I was about nine and Richard was eleven so we could start helping out around the place with chores.  We fed the chickens, split and carried wood, and sometimes helped with the milking.  I do not recall ever having been taught to milk a cow.  It seems like farm kids just know how to do things like that can be a mystery to city kids.  I guess we were getting practical lessons from Dad every day without ever realizing it.  We had a good tutor, too—Dad was a hard worker and he knew everything that needed doing around a farm.
Doc Hunt place circa 1952

One time it was a good thing that Richard and I knew how to milk.  Dad and Mother had taken Rex and gone in our old Model T to Bona, Greenfield, Bolivar, or somewhere.  They were not yet back when we got home from school—another one-room country school, Shady Grove, that we walked a mile and a half to get to. We knew exactly what to do about the evening chores so pretty soon we had everything done except the milking.  The problem with that was that Dad had been selling milk and we had about twenty cows that were demanding to be milked as the sun went down.  That is one whale of a lot of teats (eighty to be exact) to squeeze by hand!

When the sun was nearing the horizon, Richard and I knew those cows had to be milked so we got the buckets and a milk can and started.  When it got dark, we lit a kerosene lantern and kept at it.  Our small hand and arms got dog tired, but we stayed with it and were just finishing stripping the last two cows when the Model T finally pulled in.  I think they maybe had a flat tire or something that had delayed them in town.

Dad, who had been figuring that he would have to malk all those cows in the dark, was real proud of us for getting everything done and he said so.  That made us proud, too, but it was sort of embarrassing because usually he did not say much when were were right, but boy he sure let us know when we did wrong!  I guess that is how us boys grew up with the philosophy that a fellow does not need a bunch of praise for just doing what he is supposed to do.  Praise only came when you did something really outstanding—like two little boys getting all those cows milked.
Fair Play Store as it might have looked during the '20s & '30s