Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why I Think I Do This

We grew up bad. My father was an alcoholic and things were mostly just plain bad growing up but there was a time, just 5 years when things weren't too bad. We lived in the house in the photo although that picture is one of the earlier ones before my father added on, build a stone fireplace, made a larger porch and shingled the outside. This was my grandmother's house in New Hampshire and after she died we moved in. I was 4 at the time and memories of coming through the front door (I dropped my ceramic piggy bank and it broke) are the first memories of life that I have.
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.


  1. When I was little I used to hate it when my mother reminisced about her childhood...now I do it and I love hearing other's tales. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Becky! You have some gorgeous memories there and no doubt the path to living sustainably was set in your early years. A childhood and education like that is hard to come by, and that knowledge of HOW to work the land to meet your family´s needs is only now really being shared and the lifestyle sought after.

  3. Wow, Becky, this reminds me of the stories my husband tells me of his childhood. Isn't is odd how we look back and reminisce about things we used to hate to do and now look at them fondly and try to recreate those times?

  4. I am glad you all liked it. I almost didn't push the Publish button.

  5. I'm very glad you pushed the publish button. I've only read one of your posts, but what a doozey. My husband and I have been interested in self-sufficiency lately, so your topic interested me, but your voice is really warm and inviting. The first line: "We grew up bad." is great. The syrup on the snow reminded me of growing up near Vermont. Please keep writing about your memories!

  6. Great story thanks for having the confidence to share. I used to have to pick up rock as a kid too at my grandads house. He used to pay us in 1 and 2 cent coins (back then I think you could buy a 20 cent pag of lollies) so earning 10 cents for picking up stones from in the padock seemed like fun at the time.

  7. We had an allowance when we lived here. It was $2 a week for two years when my father had a good job (he eventually hit his boss and got fired). I can remember getting paid for only two other things. When we went to move my father bought a bus/camper. It had studded tires on it and studded tires were illegal then so my fathr paid us 1 penny for every two studs that we pulled out of the tires. The neighbors kids even came and made money.
    The other thing my father paid us for was plucking out his white hairs, lol. A penny for every two white hairs.

  8. so glad you hit the publish button, Becky. I'm like Hazel, I love hearing other people's stories. I think that's why I blog hop, and yours is one of my favorite hops!

  9. Thank you for sharing your memories, amazing. These memories mould you into the person you are today. You are an inspiration with what you have achieved and I love reading your blog. Thank you Becky.

  10. I think all four of us kids are always reaching towards that life we once had there but we have not been able to achieve it.

  11. Hi Becky, great story. Sometimes our past makes us a better person in adulthood.

  12. A very interesting post, Becky, and perhaps the beginning of a book?????Could be!

  13. Well, that certainly cleared the air a bit! I found your story most interesting. I love reading about other people's early memories. I can see now why you are so keen on self-sufficiency - which has to be a good thing. Some people have it all too easy!