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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Home is where the heart is.

1952 picture of the last farm the author lived on in Missouri during the 1930s.

Since I grew from eleven to fifteen years of age during the time we lived in that little farmhouse a quarter mile south of Bona—the most formative years of any young life—I shall always remember it as “home,” although the old house was long since been moved back from the road to the woods and a new house built in its place.

It was a grey, weathered little clapboard house shaded by several maple trees in the yard.  It had but three rooms—not counting the outhouse that was out past the chickenyard—a living room and a bedroom across the front and a kitchen/dining room in back that had a porch on each side.  There was only a small roofed porch on the front facing the road so there was not much room out there to sit in rocking chairs or swing in the evening and watch the world go by.  That did not matter much.  Nothing went down that old dirt road in the evening anyway.  You might as well be sitting on the back porch to enjoy the cooler evening air.

There was no electricity or running water in the house.  We used coal oil lamps and we carried water in a bucket from the deep well in the yard.  My father did build Mother a kitchen counter that had a sink that drained out into the yard so you could dump a wash pan or dishpan without taking it to the door.

Beside the back porch there was a smokehouse to the north.  Out beyond there, past a large black walnut tree and the chicken house was the two-hole outhouse.  On the other side of the backyard there was a path that led past the woodpile, some hutches where we raised a few domestic rabbits, and down to the stock tank and the small barn.

The barn had originally been a two-story log cabin.  When it was converted into a barn, lean-to sheds were built on each side; one with stalls for a team of horses or mules and the other with milking stanchions for the cows.  In the center was a corn crib and there was a small hayloft.

The stock tank outside the barn was a large round metal tank about three feet high and ten or twelve feet in diameter.  The water was supplied by a pipe from the deep well in the house yard.  The tank was large enough that we sometime jumped in it for a swim on a hot summer day or had a bath down there if we had not been swimming in the creek for a while.  In winter we had a bath in a wash tub by the black iron wood cookstove every Saturday night.  In summer when we had been going barefoot (which was all the time except on Sundays or when we went to Greenfield) we had to wash our feet as well as our hands and face every night before we went to bed.
Single cylinder pump

We had a pump house with a gasoline engine for the reason that our well was unusually deep—two or maybe three hundred feet, I think—which meant that it took a lot of force to work the long-handled cast iron pump.  It was just possible to pump a bucket of water for the house by hand, but for topping off the stock tank or pumping several buckets of water for Mother to wash clothes, the pump was rigged to a primitive one-cylinder gasoline engine with big cast iron flywheels on each side.

Now, that old putt-putt engine was a bane of we boys’ lives.  Starting it was a hazardous process.  After connecting the coil and a dry-cell battery, it was necessary to squat down, hold one of the valves open with your left hand to release the compression, and crank the flywheels with the right hand.  When you had the heavy wheels spinning pretty good you had to let go the crank handle, release the valve, and if you were lucky the engine would cough and start.  It very often did not start and the flywheel would kick back like an upset mule.  It could break your arm if you did not let go of the flywheel handle in time, something like a Model T would do.  When it did that to me, I sometimes kicked that old engine back if I happened to be wearing shoes at the time.

Out across a small pasture from the barn there was a “woodlot” on that little farm—two or three acres of woods left when the farm was cleared so there would be a handy supply of firewood to cut.  It was a great place for us boys to practice camping out.  Richard and I would sometimes take an old quilt up in those woods and make a tent.  Then we would build a campfire and kill a rabbit or a squirrel.  We rarely slept out there at night, however, since it was quite a way to go to get to the house if something scared us—which it sometimes did after we had been telling ghost stories.

Hearing about the conditions under which my father's family lived and my little grandmother cooked and cleaned and raised her children, I am overwhelmed with humility at her strength.  Grandma had had a taste of "modern" life in Vancouver and Kansas City with electricity, running water, and flush (if not inside) toilets.  Granted, most folks in the Ozarks lived that way and she was raised in what we would consider primitive conditions, but being a woman in those days, especially during the Great Depression, required grit and she had it in spades.