Life’s Lessons Learned
By Harold, Editor-At-Large
THE CHRONICLES OF HAROLD
The War Years
Just a history in chronicle form of my life, as I have lived it as near as I can remember after all of these years. Preppers and Survivalists along with any other “back to the earth” types may find it interesting. During the scope of this essay, I will chronicle my life as I lived it including all of the oops and other mistakes I have made over the years and what I done to overcome them. I am a 73 year old male, retired and partially disabled (temporary I hope pending a back operation) and since I am tied to a chair and can’t do much else, I have been lurking, surfing and occasionally posting on the blogs when something comes up that piques my interest an I feel obliged to post an opinion, rebuttal, or here’s how I done it back then. You are free to quote from, post or otherwise use this information in the color it is given, as an essay on how I have lived my life so far.
I am one of eleven children of the poorest family in our little town and my father’s education was limited to the third grade. He had been married twice before and I have an older half brother. My mother was his third and final wife and they were married from 1926 until his death in 1971. Mom followed him in 1986 and I guess it would be safe to say that life was hard but we met it head on and survived through the trials and tribulations of being destitute in a world lacked by the shortages and deprivation of WWII.
After all these years of carrying resentment from being forced into a position I was much too young for since I was the first boy after a succession of four girls and when the next older brother left home during the Korean war it left me to assume all of his duties, I was finally able to accept the necessity of doing so just to live. He was eighteen at the time and I was ten. He had been saddled with his older brother’s duties when he left for the Army in 1946, but he was only four years younger so it was not as much of a shock on him.
When the war started my Dad did not have a steady job and when the men folk started leaving for the service he obtained full time employment at the local lumberyard. Since he was now steadily employed, the county supervisor made it possible for him to acquire the rented place we were living in for the taxes due against it and talked the local savings and loan into carrying the note. I recall dad saying it was thirty-three dollars a month; just three dollars more than we were paying for rent. Shortly after this went through, a place that had sat vacant out at the north edge of town but not in the town itself that had a bigger house, barn, and a couple of other buildings located on an acre of ground came up for tax sale and the county supervisor arranged an even trade between the places.
WWII Scrap Drives, Rationin’ and Getting’ By
I was three years old when this happened and my memories start about then. I recall the place had huge trash heaps on it and the scrap drives started the following year. We’d spend long hours pulling out tin cans and other pieces of metal from the piles, cutting the ends out of the cans and flattening them. The local scrap hauler would come by once a month and pick them up. This was our grocery money during that period of time.
As we got the trash piles cleaned up, the burnables burned and the metals scrapped we were able to plant gardens. There already was a small orchard remaining on the property, so after pruning and applications of soapy water during the fruiting seasons, we were able to harvest fruits from the trees. We had several apple trees, a large pear tree, several varieties of peaches and cherries. It was necessary to spray soapy water on the fruit after it started forming to keep the worms from ruining it. We had to be careful and not spray too soon or it would run off the honeybees and had to spray like the dickens when the fruit started forming and then at least once a week unless we had a rain and then immediately after the rain to preserve the fruit which was badly needed.
Dad was a skilled carpenter and often would swap his weekend labor and ours for needed items. Right after we moved there I remember he had traded labor for a young bred jersey heifer so in the spring we had fresh milk from then on. We had a cow in town prior to me being born that mom sold excess milk from, but had to get rid of it during diphtheria scare and this was the first cow we had after that. Dad also traded for an old mare and a spring wagon and the two older brothers used this rig to clean up properties and haul off junk to the scrap yard or dumping yard.
Dad walked to work daily just like we did to school through snowdrifts higher than our heads. Some local people do not remember the deep snows we had back then, but the winter of 1948 Dad had to tunnel through a drift that measured 16 feet high at the high point so we could carry water to the barn for the horse, cow and chickens and goat.
The goat was a utility goat that we used to drag things with and she had a little four-wheel wagon she would pull. Mom sold all of the milk from her since none of us cared for the taste of goat milk. This goat used to take us down the road where we would pick up pop bottles and every egg crate we found since we could cash them in for a two-cent refund. When we would do this, we were allowed to buy for each of us a pack of four caramels for a penny that we would eat and feed the goat the paper wrappings. She got so used to this that when she would see us gathering egg crates and hearing the bottles clanking would go stand between the shaft of the wagon waiting to be hitched up and driven to town.
Mom traded the goat to the McNess spice man along with her wagon one day for some badly needed spices and condiments. A year later she traded our old yellow bird dog to him for some more spices. We missed both for a short time, but the cinnamon sure tasted good on her homemade sweet rolls. Mom discovered how to cultivate sourdough yeast during the war years, but when rationing went off and yeast became more readily available she started using it again and never went back to sourdough, although we missed the taste of it.
Victory Gardenin’, Seed Selection an’ A Whole Lot More
On this one acre patch of ground, we planted a very large garden and my Mom was a master of intensive close gardening. We also had room to put out a small patch of white corn for mom’s homemade hominy and we also put out a patch of oats several years running that we reaped, winnowed, hulled and rolled ourselves with an old washing machine hand wringer that had maple rollers on it. Those oats sure tasted good back then and after years of trying to eat cut oats, my Wife has finally found a source for those old fashioned style rolled oats that we order online. We grew several varieties of beans, peas and grew some popcorn along with the white corn she used for hominy. She also grew the white shoe peg sweet corn in such quantities that she could can it.
We never had a canner during those years. but always done all of the cooking and canning in a large witch’s cast iron kettle in the yard that we had to keep the fire going just right underneath it. I can remember putting up the last of the tomatoes just after the first frost hit and Mom making ketchup out of the damaged ones. We canned beans clear up until the frost and we made kraut after the frost had hit the cabbage. That was delicious to sneak down to the root cellar and sample the kraut in the five-gallon crock containers.
We raised a couple of hogs, but only got to butcher one of them during the war since she had caught milk fever after her pigs were weaned and would not have survived the trip to the slaughterhouse. A contrary neighbor tried to have Dad arrested and thrown in jail for butchering the hog since he would not share with him, but did share with the neighbor who helped with the butchering. We had an entitlement mentality back then and had to keep constantly on guard to keep this family from stripping our garden and fruit trees and keep them from stealing chickens and eggs. The sheriff refused to arrest Dad and told the bunch to mind their own business and to keep off our property or they would be the ones in jail. The guy was supposedly disabled but could walk around in the woods all night long with the coonhounds.
We always had something to do like walking the railroad track gathering the chunks of coal that had fallen from the trains, gathering wild asparagus in season and wild grapes or other wild fruits and berries. Mom turned most of it into preserves, which she canned with honey during the war, and one local fellow had some sandy clay soil that he raised a good crop of sorghum from and sold it locally from his little mill. Sorghum grown in our black ground was too strong and bitter to use as a sweetener, but made good moonshine I have been told.
I can remember harvesting the garden produce and Mom telling us when we would shell the corn to start shelling from both ends and to leave the middle unshelled since it had the largest nicest kernels she would keep for seed. We tried out using end and middle kernels and she was right as usual. We used the same tactic keeping only the best and biggest of the seeds when we harvested, except for the small white navy pea beans, which for some unknown reason had better flavor the smaller they were. Mom had us sort them by the size and uniformity.
It was in the spring of 1945 when a bee swarm arrived and settled on the lattice work arbor over the sidewalk where there was a grapevine growing. My Dad’s step-uncle happened to be there when that happened and he got an old weathered water keg with a removable lid and had us pick some fresh peach leaves and rub the interior of the keg with them. Strangely the bees went right on into the keg without even trying to sting us and we located the keg all of the way down on the corner post on the southeast corner of the property. Mom had put several spoons of peach preserves in the keg along with a tin can full of water and we had to keep the water can filled for several months. After several weeks had went by the bees got used to the keg and had started building combs and filling them with honey.
That fall after the freeze when the bees were torpid, the local beekeeper came by and showed us how to make beehives and we made four of them. He then baited each hive and transferred bees from the keg to the hives along with the honey bait. We then split the keg and mom gathered and bottled the honey that was loose out of the comb and then bottled the combs also. Three of the hives took in the spring and produced new queens in the two that did not have queens and after rebaiting the fourth hive, the bees occupied it and produced a queen for it also so we had sweetener from then on out.
One neighbor raised several fields of alfalfa and clover since he was in the hay business so the bees did not have to look far for their nectar. Our gardens always produced heavily because the bees were constantly pollinating and cross pollinating them. They even went so far one year to create a hybrid squash pumpkin product that resembled neither the pumpkin the seeds came from nor the squash the pollen came from. After that we no longer raised neither pumpkin nor squash since no one in the family really like to eat them.
Life was very busy for us and since we had so much to do we never got a chance to get into trouble. If any trouble occurred it was because it found us rather than us seeking it out. I remember during this period of time that someone had demolished an old house and outbuildings and my brothers had hauled the wood to our house and piled it next to the shed where we kept the pigs housed. We made a lean-to with a tarp and side curtains since it was late fall and cold outside. We made some sawhorses and got to work cleaning the nails which we straightened, polished in a sack of sand and then repointed with a brick, sitting them on the boards and stacking them by width and length. We were allowed to burn the broken pieces of wood in an old steel barrel that had been a boiler tank at one time to keep warm and had to gather the ashes from for Mom to leach lye from for her soap making and other lye uses. I never knew how to use a new nail until I entered the Army years later as we always had a supply of used nails on hand.
We hunted wild game for table purposes and since we were not old enough to use firearms, we had to use spears, or bow and arrows. One year after watching Dad make a fish trap, I made a variation of it and successfully caught several pheasants in it. Mom wanted to know how I managed to come home with those live pheasants and when I showed her the traps I had made, she told Dad and he told me not to use them since the game warden would raise hell with me.
Life moved on in this difficult manner with us raising chickens, rabbits and a couple of geese that served as watch dogs since they told on the shiftless neighbors when they would come sneaking around. The winter of 1944-1945 was cold with deep snows and a trucker who bought some of the homemade hickory handles Dad made for axes, hammers and other handled tools came down from Green Bay, Wisconsin and did not have the money to buy the handles, so he traded Dad a couple of crates of frozen fish he was bringing down to sell. We really ate good on fish at least one a week after that and he would show up every winter from then on with fish to trade for handles until we moved away from the place in 1954.
Spring came in 1945 with a grand rebirth of growing things and that summer the war ended. We were very disappointed that the rationing dragged on and supplies were still very hard to get. School started for me in September 1945 and my narrative begins again from then.
To be continued…
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