A friend recently posted one of those questions on Facebook that are so popular: “What perks did you have as a kid because of your parent’s job?” Answers varied; one I recall was that the child got to take an image of her own hand on a photo copier in her Dad’s office. It made me think about my own life growing up on a working chicken and dairy farm during the 1940s, and the many, many perks that experience afforded.
Although I don’t remember much about it, the middle and late 1930s were difficult times for a vast number of folks, with many going hungry. While my own parents didn’t have one nickel to rub against another, we never went hungry. Dad and Mom had both had office jobs when they married in 1931, but by 1933 they were laid off, and had a brand new baby (me) to boot. Fortunately, my grandfather Moore owned a farm that wasn’t then being used, as he had landed a political job in 1928 as superintendent of the county home and farm. So, to feed his family, Dad went back to the farm; poor Mom was a town girl, and things such as no running water, cooking on a coal stove, and the outhouse must have been a real cultural shock for her.
But to get back to the perks. There was always a large garden that afforded us rhubarb, onions, peppers, tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, beets, turnips, and most any other vegetable you can name, although some of these weren’t entirely appreciated by we kids. An acre or two of potatoes was raised every year, and there were always watermelon and pumpkins in season.
Berries were plentiful in the summer such as raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and currants, and we cultivated strawberries to sell. There were apple, peach, pear, cherry, and plum trees to pick from, and lots of grape vines.
We could always find hazel, hickory, and black walnuts in the fall, and in the spring Mom made a tasty salad of wilted, tender young dandelion greens. She regularly baked bread and rolls, cakes, pies, cookies, and occasionally doughnuts. We always had fresh milk and homemade butter to slather on the fresh-baked bread and rolls.
Dad butchered a pig and a beef about once a year and Mom and my aunt canned a lot of it, so we had good ham, bacon, pork, and beef. Of course, we always had eggs, and could have had a chicken any time we wanted, although for some reason none of us had much of a taste for poultry.
At around age nine, I began to really help with the farm work by driving the little Ford tractor on the hayfork rope, and before long I was doing most any kind of field work with it. By the time I was twelve, I was driving our old ton-and-a-half truck picking up hay with a hayloader and doing other jobs, and was driving dad’s car on the farm roads, all great perks for a young boy.
But it wasn’t all work, we had lots of time to be kids. There were three hundred acres of farm and woodland to roam over and we’d be gone for hours with Mom and Dad having no idea where we were. I guess that since Dad had grown up on the same farm he figured we’d get along okay, and we did — lots of bruises, scratches, an occasional case of poison ivy, but never a broken bone or a serious injury. There were two barns to climb around in, where we dared each other to make the long jump down into the loose hay in the mows, as well as various chicken coops, granaries, corn cribs, and other out-buildings to play in. We climbed trees and built several tree houses; hung rope swings on high tree limbs and pumped ourselves up on these until we seemed to be flying. There were always lumber scraps and a hammer, saw, and nails available for our latest project. By the time I was twelve I was allowed to take a single-shot .22 caliber rifle along on our excursions and we plinked away at any target that suited our fancies. In the winter we dragged our sleds to the highest hills and coasted down them until we were worn out and nearly frozen through.
Yes, because of my parent’s occupation my childhood was just chock-a-block with perks, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for pie!