Letter from a Farm Wife

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A World War I poster showing a woman baking with oat or barley flour or corn meal in order to save wheat flour, as alluded to in Mrs. Doren’s letter. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In February of 1918, the United States was mobilized for World War I and life on an upstate New York farm, which was never easy, was made more difficult by wartime restrictions. This letter from a farm wife titled “The Story of a Day on a Northern Dairy Farm” chronicled a typical day in her life and appeared in the February 16th issue of the Rural New Yorker.

“A rattle of lantern, of stove lids, of milk pails. Surely it’s not five o’clock yet and “I sae weary,” but I remember that yesterday was washday, and drowsily wish the earth might roll backwards and give us another night’s rest. Then a little head bobs up, a little voice commands, “Put your arms around me,” and the small snuggler whispers, “I’m your girl!” She cannot snuggle long for time has a way of flying at this hour of the morning. Opening the drafts of the wood stove and throwing in some green maple sticks brings a blaze and some degree of warmth to the icy atmosphere.

The kitchen range uses coal and is burning brightly, the men having opened the drafts and put the teakettle on. The tank is full of warm soft water and a good scrub clears away the last cobwebs of weariness. Aunt Jane has already put the oatmeal on and is stirring up buckwheat pancakes. Slices of sausage are put into a granite pan and slipped into the oven to fry. Sounds of hilarity are heard upstairs, so we remind the children that breakfast is almost ready.

The men come in from milking and a couple of pails of milk are run through the separator in order to have some skimmed milk to feed the Holstein calves. At the present price of butter and whole milk, skim-milk is worth over a dollar a hundred, but where are dairy cattle to come from if we do not do our share to raise them.

By this time breakfast is ready, and oatmeal and creamy milk, sausage and puffy brown pancakes with butter and maple syrup, doughnuts and coffee, with milk for the children, disappear with completeness and dispatch. There is bread on the table but very little is eaten. At first when we tried to save bread, everyone suddenly developed a voracious appetite for it, but we have gotten used to eating other food.

The sun rises bright over the hill as we talk over the plans for the day. Then someone hands father the Good Book and he reads the day’s lesson and leads his family in the daily petition for help from above. Then each returns to his work or play, one of the men going out to feed the stock and clean the stables, while the other fills the stoves, starts the engine to pump water, and feeds the calves and pigs. Aunt Jane goes at the dishes while mother puts up lunches for the children who are getting ready for school.

Finally the last hair-ribbon is tied, the last mitten found, and Steve, the four-year-old colt, is at the door with the cutter. It must be confessed that mother and the children enjoy these drives to and from school, and Steve is so gentle, so willing to do instantly just what he is told. The track is heavy this morning–men are already plowing away the snow so the milkman and the mailman may have a better road. The landscape is so white and still that it is a pleasure to see a flock of snowbirds and some blue jays.

Our country school of 20 or more pupils is taught by one of the local girls who is a high school graduate with some additional training. Would we like to give this up for a consolidated school? Not under any consideration. This teacher is a product of our own community and is training our young children as we want them trained and not from some reformer’s experiments.

The milkman, with his big gray team and load of cans, drives in just as I reach home and our milk is started on its six-mile trip to the condensery, where we receive League prices. At the barn the men are busy watering stock, cleaning stables and drawing manure to the field. I wash the separator, bake bread and sort and fold clothes until time for dinner, which consists of potatoes and one other vegetable, beef or pork, and a simple dessert, such as apple dumpling, or rice and maple syrup. We used to bake lots of pies, but feel we should save the sugar this year.

The mailman comes about noon and how we do enjoy the mail! We can hardly wait to get the latest war news and even Mr. Jigg’s affairs have to be looked into. The hired man has a big package of warm clothes from a mail order house and we are glad his order came all right.

Somewhat reluctantly, the men lay aside the papers and start for the woods. This coal shortage has caught many of us napping and now we have to eke out the meager coal supply with green wood.

After the dishes are done, ironing and mending occupy the women’s time until 3:30, when one of them must make the trip to the schoolhouse again. The closest neighbor brings her two-year-old to see our three-year-old and the little ones play while the older ones visit.

The men return with a big load of wood, chores are begun and supper is prepared. Baked potatoes, milk gravy, cheese, johnny cake, milk and canned fruit make up the meal. After supper comes milking and feeding again.

The little folks read or play games until 7:30, their bedtime. A dish of apples is brought up from the cellar, the papers and magazines are produced, and for an hour or two, the family revels in warmth and a quiet rest. As we prepare for bed, we think of the suffering families in Europe, the boys in the trenches and in the hospitals, and can only wish better times ahead for them all.

Mrs. A.G. Doren, St. Lawrence County, N.Y.

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