Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Why I Think I Do This
We had 5 acres here in my mother's home town. A few acres were clear and the rest were woods on a hill. It is so hard to know where to start with this....
I guess I'll start with the garden. It was about an acres worth of that field. Pickin' rocks was to become our-we children's- most hated chore. The garden was where an old river bed used to run (there is still a stream on the other side of the road) and the amount of rocks we got out of it each year was just amazing. Piles and piles of rocks down the side of the garden after we got done "pickin' rocks" (my father always found some relative of my mothers or someone he traded with to plow it each year). Our garden flourished. I don't remember a lot but remember the carrots were huge and hard to get out, the watermelon rind pickles and pickled beets my mother made and canned were wonderful and peas tasted so good. I also remember that there was always plenty of pumpkins for all the relatives and neighbors who wanted them on Halloween.
The garden was a major way we were self sufficient but it wasn't the only way. On that big hill by the house were many sugar maples. We all bundled up and went to help my father tap those trees each year. Later after the sap was collected he would boil it all down in the smoke house(there was no sugar house but the smoke house became the sugar house since we never smoked anything) in metal barrel cut in half. He spent night after night in that smoke house. We always had plenty of syrup and enough to give the neighbors. In winter instead of ice cream we had "sugar on snow". That was when my father heated up some syrup; we kids went out after a fresh deep snow and got a bowl and my father would drizzle warm syrup on top. I don't think any ice cream EVER tasted as good.
Wood, especially after my father built the fireplace, was another hated chore. Wood had to be brought in each day and piled by the fireplace. A lot of wood. There wasn't any wood box at our house. You piled it in a nice pile on the wall that the fireplace was on. When you were little the stack was over your head but as you got bigger it might be chest high and several feet wide. Four or 5 trip outside to the woodshed (after my father built the woodshed) for each of the three of us kids. However, bringing wood out of the "woods" might be funner because it often involved dragging it out with the truck or in the winter dragging it out with the snowmobiles.
Wood and picking rocks weren't the only chores though. There were chickens, there were rabbits and there as the bull. Chickens weren't so bad, because my mother or father took care of them. I don't remember having to do them but the rabbits were another story. My father got rabbits because he thought he could eat or sell them but my mother refused to eat rabbit and my father could never seem to find too many people to sell them to. But they had to be fed and that turned out to be we kids job. We were given a bucket and had to fill it with grass (we often tried to fluff it up but my mother would step in the bucket and flatten it every time) 3 times to feed the rabbits. It was a hateful job and we were plenty glad when my father finally gave up on the rabbits. The bull was only a problem when it was little and it would get out of the fence. It wasn't a problem when my father was there because he would put it back in but one time it was just my brother and I there(I'm not sure why we were alone at the time) when my uncle (he lived at the top of the field on property my grandmother had given him)called and said the calf was out. It was my brothers job to get it back in and he did try but finally my cousin came out and got the calf back under the fence.
My father butchered the bull in the front yard. He hit it in the head with a "splittin' mall". Then him and the neighbor butchered it on a tarp and brought the pieces into my mother. Later on I remember my father and my mother grinding up the hamburger with the manual cast iron grinder.
There are other little things like how the black walnuts were thrown up on any roof to dry so that they could be cracked out of their hard shells. Even to this day I remember how good they tasted-like a sweeter form of a walnut.
There was a big patch of rhubarb and I do mean a BIG well established patch, but my mother hardly ever used much of it because rhubarb pie was alright but not one of our favorites.
There was fishing. We did a lot of fishing. The stream was right across the street and there was trout in it but we hardly ever went there. My father knew lots of other spots to fish though and we often went. My father was not a big fan of fish with scales though and would throw those with scales back but we still kept plenty of fish.
Crawfish (crayfish as we always called them in NH) and frogs were good to fish for too. Both can be caught with a string, hook and a piece of red or white cloth. Frogs should be fished for early in the morning or late in the evening. Crawfish you can catch where large boulders come out on the sides of ponds at night. They come up on the boulders for the warmth.
I had a little friend who live down the road and when I went to her house we made string art with wood and nails we pounded in ourselves. We also carved soap with jack knives! Then the shavings were made into a ball and melted in the oven. (Now how dangerous was giving a 7 year old a knife to carve in soap with?--and I really don't remember the age we were I am saying 7; I hope that we weren't 5 or 6 but we could have been).
My cousin also kept bees in our field for several years and shared honey with us.
Later on as I grew up that same cousin raised all his own chickens, a pair of geese and two hogs each year. One year he also raised several turkeys but didn't like them much. He dabbled in gardening but never seemed to get much from his garden but I remember whenever we visited him my mind seemed to take notes for when I might get a chance to do things myself.
So these are the good memories I have and they all deal with being self sufficient. Maybe that is why I am the way I am.