Life’s Lessons Learned
The Chronicles of Harold
Things for me during this period of time changed considerably, since I was now mobile and going to school. And this is when I first began to experience that I was different than some of my other classmates. And as I began to come in contact with other residents of our town, I could see we were somehow different, even though I did not understand back then as how and why.
I started first grade with a handicap, poor eyesight. And since I was among the poor, I could not be seated up front to make access to the stationary teaching materials easier to view, but was relegated to the back of the class as befitted my social position in life. The second handicap was that I could read and write. This was a big no no in the school teacher’s eyes, especially from someone like me who was definitely a lesser specimen of humanity than the rest of my classmates.
My next older sister and I had spent considerable time with our maternal Grandmother in my fifth year, because my Mother had evidently experienced a late term miscarriage, the best that I can understand. Grandma, being French Canadian, generally spoke French around the house and of course we both picked it up. My sister remained fluent the balance of her life, and mine would come and go partly because I had learned feminine French as opposed to neuter or masculine.
Since I had older brothers and sisters, they shared their school books and material with me. At three years old I learned to spell and write my name with the help of a picture post card given to me that had a picture of a dog with his bowl and his name Spot written on it, and a spilled bottle of ink with the word Ink displayed. I treasured this great gift that had been given me and soon I was able to pronounce the words, write them and recognize them readily when someone else would write them. I got hold of one of the schoolbooks with the alphabet in it and soon learned the alphabet and could copy it faithfully from memory.
By the time school started, not only was I conversing on a five year old level in French with my sister, but I was also able to read and write my name and with some effort could sound out certain words. Phonics lessons came from a sister in the third grade and I could generally read anything up to that grade level. I was only stymied with words like cough, plough, rough, etc.
I sat at the back of the class quietly and done what I was told to do and then one day, they started a new round of education. This consisted of sitting in a semi-circle of eight or ten of us in front of a very large freestanding book that told the story of Dick, Jane and their dog, Spot. My favorite dog of all time and I have had several named thusly even though they may not have had spots. I had already gathered that my prime transgression was being able to read above the level I was supposed to. Reluctantly my time came when after all of the other children ahead of me had read out loud a sentence each, I arose and finished reading the balance of the page. Absolute shock, silence, etc. ensued. I had my hand smacked with a ruler and sent to the principal’s office to be paddled for having the nerve to accomplish what I had done.
Thankfully this did not, which it well could have, turn me against education. I had no sympathy from the family, and the teacher had the nerve to send a note home with me that I was to be discouraged from any future exhibitions of this kind, that it was frowned on to have education at home. Yes, looking back on this episode, I can see the same thing happening in our liberal controlled bastions of knowledge that frantically resist home education because it contravenes the tripe they are trying to indoctrinate our children with.
In my teacher’s case, it was not liberalism but usurping her prerogatives. I was simply not supposed to know how to do this without being taught by her. This set the pattern for the balance of the grade school years and was only broken by a favorite substitute school teacher who recognized in me something others did not see. She encouraged me to continue in this manner, acquiring knowledge and education beyond what was being taught in the classes I may happen to be in.
My position was further degraded because of the quality of clothing we had to wear and the obvious fact that we wore the same outfit the entire week both to school and to work at home. I guess they did not realize what it was like to only have one complete set of clothing and at this time, laundry at home was done by boiling clothes in the old witch’s kettle and then scrubbing on a wash board. On laundry day, we had to wear whatever was available until our set of clothes was laundered.
I have had it said to me numerous times that other large families used hand me downs to alleviate this situation and did not suffer from it. I always reply that it would have been nice, except for the fact I was the first boy after four girls and I looked too funny in a dress that had already been handed down three times previously. Talk about a handicap.
I have long had a not so civil discourse with a lot of blacks with whom I have become acquainted with over the years when I tell them they do not have the wrap up on being poor nor experiencing prejudice. The only black family in our county experienced less prejudice than we did.
In the third grade, we were given an assignment to reproduce a colored pictorial in four panels of what we would like to become in the future. I had a little notebook that I kept my drawings in that I worked on and one day the teacher remonstrated with me because I was not drawing in my assigned marked out panels on the blackboard. I told her I would do it all on the last day. She took me to one side and asked me why I was doing this. I told her that I had become tired of the ridicule delivered by both my classmates and the first and second grade teachers when I would do my assignments and I figured that if I transferred it from my copy book to the board on the last day, I would only face one day of ridicule.
Off we went to the principal’s office to explain this infraction of the rules and once my copy book was examined, it was explained that the action of drawing on the board was so the other students could view and critique what each other was doing. I explained as best I could with my third grade skills that critique in my case always turned into ridicule with the aid of the teachers. A conversation with the first grade and second grade teachers along with a group meeting with grades 1 through 4 teachers and the substitute teacher resulted in a reprimand for the first and second grade teacher and a grade adjustment for those two years.
My third grade teacher remained a favorite of mine, even going so far as to correspond with me while I was in the Army in Korea. She had gotten married shortly after I did and was no longer an old maid but still took the time to write me every now and then until she was in her final illness. I always credited her just as heavily as I did the substitute teacher I had with my status in life in my later years after I had become successful. In spite of what my Dad or siblings thought and the town as a whole, I still wound up with more education and a higher income than anyone else in that miserable place ever did.
In the fall after school started for the fourth grade, I was greeted with a situation of having a pair of twin boys and their cousin, all a couple of years older and larger than I who having failed the fourth grade twice, were relocated to relations living within our town in hopes that a change of locale would help them out. They received their help with their situation later on the summer between the fifth and sixth grades. They made life miserable for me, beating me up constantly with them ganging me and three on one did not make for good odds.
When they purposely broke my new glasses one morning when they would not allow me to enter the school grounds, I went to the lumberyard where my Dad worked only to get beaten for allowing them to break my eyeglasses that were expensive. I talked to the local police officer, but was given the cold shoulder. Mom made a deal with the optometrist to clean his house weekly for him replacing my glasses so I would not fall behind in school.
Factories, Subdivisions and Land Disputes
The local factory got a large order of floats for antisubmarine nets and had to recruit people to come up from Kentucky to replace locals who were still serving. They wanted to purchase a strip of property out by our house and make a small subdivision to house their employees, selling them the new houses on contract and withholding payment from their paychecks.
They had a difficult time getting the property okayed since our acre of ground was staked out as being above water during flood season and it was irregular although square in shape. The quarter section line transected our property thirty three feet from the western edge and since the property was square two hundred nine feet by two hundred nine feet, that put the balance of it in the east quarter section. To add to the difficulty, our property was a quarter of a mile from the road and reached by a dedicated right of way that aligned with the section line of the west quarter. A neighbor on the east of us insisted we were using part of his farm ground as a right of way and parked a combine in the lane one day to prevent usage.
Dad called the Sheriff and he had the combine hauled away really making the neighbor mad. A trip to the courthouse and it cost Dad eighteen dollars which he bitterly resented to acquire a new deed for the right of way and then we found out that it was 33 feet wide and a quarter mile long with 16-1/2 feet reserved for a lane of passage. The lane aligned with the west edge of the property, so as a consequence was entirely on the west quarter section and the neighbor had been encroaching for years on part of the property.
Boy was he mad and then the Sheriff worked out a deal with him to continue using the portion we were not using for farming, but us reserving ownership of the property in return for allowing us to use a six foot wide portion which included the drain ditch for pasturing the cow. After the new deed was issued, the county planning commission gave approval for the factory to acquire a portion of the west quarter abutting our property by issuing a variance in the lot depth and road width between the two rows of houses.
We had one new neighbor then by 1951. The property south of us had changed hands and the new owner granted us a utility easement for a buried pipeline across his ten acre patch of farm ground and a ditch was dug and a one inch high pressure gas pipeline was ran out from the edge of town to our property, so we had natural gas heat from then on. This was I believe in 1952, the same year we finally got electricity when my Mom’s brother came over from Indiana and wired the house and they ran a power line down the fence row of our neighbor on the south so we also had electric power.
As the utilities continued down the line in the subdivision next door, we had bought the three lots adjoining our property to prevent having people backed up against us and a deal was struck to acquire our gas line and electric line and tie it into the subdivision in return for tying into the city water main. We had water in the house with a pitcher pump at the kitchen sink drawing water from the well, but this allowed us to have running water for the house. Mom already had a bottle gas kitchen range that had replace the old familiar, comfortable Copper Clad Kitchen Range which had a hot water reservoir on one side, a huge oven, four lids in the cooking area and a large griddle area.
Sure missed that old stove on cold winter mornings after that, but removing it and closing up the alcove where it sat allowed Dad and Mom to have a bigger bedroom. Closing in the south porch that year gave the girls a bedroom of their own and since the two older brothers slept up overhead in the smokehouse in a little bedroom up there, that left the other bedroom for us four remaining boys.
During the summer recess from school that year, I hand dug a pit and poured a septic tank with plans from the university and installed a bathroom in a section of the closed in south porch–just thrilling my sisters to death. They promptly tried to keep us from using it insisting that we continue to use the old outhouse. I pushed it in and burned it down the next week, filling the pit and planting marigolds on top of the pile.
I had a growth streak that summer shooting up to nearly six feet and about 155 pounds, which made me a pretty good sized twelve year old. I had good muscular development, particularly upper body from all of the work I had been doing.
I was down in the pit of the grease trap I was building for the kitchen and bath waste when something hit me in the back of the head, driving me down and up against the other side of the pit. I twisted around just in time to see one of the twins drawing back his foot to kick me again. I grabbed his foot and dragged him into the hole with me and proceeded to just stomp and beat him really good, letting out my several years of frustrations of being beaten by them.
After him yelling and screaming and his brother and cousin taking off running, I finally let him go and chased after the other two. They hid out somewhere, so I went back home and finished digging the pit. I had finished pouring the trap and had just finished troweling the cover lid I had made in a separate form when my Dad showed up with the local police officer.
He wanted to arrest me for beating up on the kid. My Mom, who I had not known had witnessed the entire thing, came out and said she had seen what had happened, that I had been attacked from behind by the three of them and I had been defending myself and when I had gotten the best of the first one, the other two took off running with me chasing them. She told the police officer that they had been beating on me for several years now and he had not done anything about it, even though they had been bigger and older than me and he damn well was not going to do anything about me defending myself and she was going to call the Sheriff and have the town police officer arrested if he pressed it any further.
The officer said well I wasn’t smaller than them and Mom told him I had been doing considerable growing that spring and summer and he could look forward to me getting even with the other two before Christmas and the offer of calling the Sheriff still stood. He left, and Dad later had words with the twin’s uncle who worked for the City and he told Dad they had it coming to them. I had since taken care of the other two. And believe me, they never even looked cross eyed at me from then on.
We had finally gotten modern instead of living like the Amish neighbors around us. It sure was nice on a cold winter morning to have a clean fire burning during the night, and not having to dash outside first thing in the morning.
Necessary Rat Hunting
During the period of time we lived on this place we were constantly being bothered by rats from the city dump across the field from us, in spite of the dogs and cats who done their best to keep them down. We constantly were shooting rats with whatever we had to shoot them with, and I once speared one on the run and pinned him to the ground. While he was squealing with agony, two other rats ran over and attacked him, biting and chewing on him. The dogs got one of them and a thrown brick took out the other.
We would locate a rat hole and using a piece of flexible exhaust tubing and Mom’s two cycle Maytag washer; we would funnel the smoke down the hole and mark the holes where the rats came from. [This washer replaced an old wooden tub Taylor that was agitated with a pair of twin handles in sort of a rocking cradle. I would stand on one end and my brother on the other end and would work these handles back and forth to agitate the water through the clothes. ] Once we wanted to go ratting and she was using her washer, so we took a jug of gasoline and poured some down the hole. Pitching in a match caused an explosion that blew several burning rats from the various holes. The dogs caught and killed four and my brother and I killed three, so seven was not a bad record for the day.
The New Home Place
My oldest brother had bought property five miles from town that consisted of ten acres that had been logged off and was a stump and brush patch. He got a bull dozer from the place he was working at on weekends, and bulldozed the stumps and brush and pushed it all up into a great big pile and then discovered that he had a couple of live springs down on the southwest corner of the property. He pushed up a dirt berm so it would form a pond and the ground dried up a little, so he could use it to farm.
There was an adjacent ten-acre patch just west of his that was heavily wooded. That fall my maternal Grandmother passed away and left Mom a small inheritance. Dad and Mom bought the ten-acre patch of woods, much to my enjoyment that soon turned to dismay when I found they intended to immediately move out there. During the week, Dad would drop us off with the dogs, water jugs, tools, etc. to work on cleaning up an area he had selected to build a house. We would spend all day and he and Mom would bring out supper and we would work until dark.
The first day off from school that summer, we had completed a cabin that was eight feet wide by sixteen feet long on runners that Dad had gotten a permit to pull from our place in town out to the timber. He rented a John Deere tractor, and the next morning I hitched up to the building and dragged it the five miles without incident out to the property. By evening it was spotted where he wanted it, and jacked up with a footing marked out to dig the next day. Two days later it had a footing dug and poured and a couple of days later a two block high foundation to sit it down on.
We stored our tools and stuff in the cabin the rest of the summer while we fulfilled a couple of timber contracts Dad had sold. A neighbor south of us had a sawmill. The big one was for bridge flooring and took a while to fill since my younger brother was useless for help, and Dad eventually got a chain saw for me to saw down the trees, rather than trying to use the cross cut saw by myself. He never would discipline this brother for some reason. And since he was the apple of Dad’s eye, Dad believed every little lie he would tell him about how hard he was working and I was just sitting around.
We dug and poured footings and laid up blocks for an extension on the cabin. We made a west half, eight by twenty, and lengthened the east half four feet to twenty feet in length. On Labor Day with the floor I had completed and the walls that were subbed up and stacked, the brothers and brothers’-in-law arrived for the day, and by midafternoon the cabin erecting was completed and we now had a nice cabin that was sixteen by twenty.
We slept in it that night. The next day, while I was digging the toilet pit and building the crib and two holer, my brothers were supposed to take the little tractor and trailer back to the home place and load up all of our furniture, beds, etc. and bring them out. Noon came and went, and by about two o’clock I had the outhouse finished and was working on the well house and they still had not shown up. This time my brother had miscalculated his timing and Dad and Mom caught him two miles from the timber just returning. Mom yelled at Dad and made him let me eat my lunch that the other brother had on the trailer before we started unloading. The other brothers just stood around until I finished and did not even start to unload until I did.
Such injustice… Here I was being returned to living like Amish after all of the hard work I had done on the other place getting it modern and I was returned to living a rough lifestyle again without modern conveniences. We got electricity which drove just the well pump and Mom used her old kerosene camp stove to cook on and that winter, when enough of a shell was finished for them to move into the house, there was no room for me and my next youngest brother.
We had to stay in the old cabin that was now a workshop and had an old barrel stove for winter heat. He would not take his turn fueling the stove, and once I held out just to see what he would do and when he got too cold to stand it, he went to the house and they let him in. I had to relight the fire and warm up our cubbyhole again. I would not let him back in with me. This was winter of 1954 and was not a pleasant one for me.
Specifics of Cabin Construction
The original cabin was fabricated in the 8 x 16 configuration from stock fir dressed lumber, as was the later addition. Since those materials were already on hand in a nearly sufficient quantity to build with, and only the ceiling joists had to be purchased when we increased the size.
The balance was with reclaimed lumber. And if you want to experience some tedious work, try scraping old paint from used siding, some of which had to be softened with a blow torch, with broken pieces of glass and then sanded with an old soft brick to remove any traces of paint, smoothing the surface, which left a nice light gray weathered color.
When assembled into the walls and erected, a brown stain made from black walnut hulls was washed on and rinsed off. After drying for a couple of days, a boiled linseed oil was applied to finish this off. Stuff like this was obtainable in small left over quantities free for the taking, and paint cost money which we did not have. Even the stain we made ourselves after an old Indian showed us how with our own walnut hulls.
You can’t build very well using rough sawn lumber along with finished lumber because of the difference in size. When logs are sawn wet, while still green, they are rough sawn to a full dimension like 2 x 4. After drying and planing smooth, this dimension is reduced to 1-5/8 inch by 3-5/8 inch, even though it is still called a 2 x 4. The new house was built using full dimension lumber sawn from seasoned logs with a finer toothed, 56 inch blade, so while not planed smooth it was a lot smoother than rough green sawn lumber.
The other cabin mentioned later was reclaimed lumber with hand split cedar roof shingles and log siding, which is a log too small to square up and saw into boards, but is just held in the saw cradle and 1 inch boards sawn one after another from the log. With the bark still on and the uneven edge which is called deckle edged. The board, since it was not squared before sawing, was random width, being tapered from one end to the other. This made it necessary to alternate the ends when nailing to the studs so it would remain fairly level. I have heard this called a number of things, but we always called it stacked siding and did indeed have a very rustic look when stained and oiled. It also used up trees that had to be removed for something more than just firewood.
So much happened the next two years that I am going to conclude this portion with this ending and resume with 1955-1956.
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