A to Z Challenge: Unspoiled Children, Untiring Parent

A family with 9 children survives life on the Kansas prairie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The experiences they have illustrate the joys, sorrows, hardships and everyday life of the Midwest pioneers. This faith filled series of stories is true. The eldest child was my great grandmother Alzina Pomeroy Boone.

Summers in between teaching contracts found Alzie reconnecting to her children. In addition she was often taking on extra work sewing, cleaning or giving music lessons as well as studying and keeping up her teaching certificates. These are summer stories from the years 1901 -1906

Alzie and two of the children in the back of the boat.

The Things Children Say, as told by Alzie

The milk from our Jersey cow was rich and made yellow butter, but the children had been accustomed to milk from a Holstein cow while they had stayed with Father and Mother. Ethel voiced the disappointment of all when she said querulously, “Why can’t we have nice, white butter like Grandma has?”

We rented pasture for the cows during the summer in Emporia. In the pasture were a number of “sloughs” or ravines which wound around so the cows were sometimes hard to find. One evening when Timothy (Alzie’s brother) was visiting us, the boys had reported they couldn’t find the cows, and Timothy had spoken incredulously of the sloughs hiding the cows. Charles (another brother) spoke defensively, turning to John for confirmation “Why, the sloughs are so crooked that a snake could hardly follow them, could it?” And John answered “‘T’would break its back”, convulsing Timothy and all of us in a long spell of laughter.”

A Salvation Story, as told by Alzie

“Often on summer evenings in 1902, when bedtime prayers had been offered and the children were tucked into bed, I would sit at the side of one of the beds and we would talk awhile. One night in June something was said about Christ’s second coming. As the children asked questions, I answered as best I knew, stressing most the joy his coming will bring to those who are saved. Suddenly, Ethel wailed with a tearful voice, “I want to be saved, but nobody has ever told me how.” As I told her to pray, to tell God how she felt and what she desired until she knew she was saved, Stanley called out, “Mama, come here,” and he whispered the same desire. John did too and they began heartfelt seeking God, with my help. After a few moments, Ethel said happily, “Mamma, I have such a happy feeling here,” placing her hand on her heart.

Soon the boys, too, expressed their assurance that they were saved. Ethel too, joined in the prayer and the general expression of happiness and confidence that we were ready for Jesus’ coming. The next Sunday was “Children’s Day” and the pastor gave a good sermon and invited all children who were saved or wanted to be saved to come forward, and my children went joyfully with ten other children, most of whom confessed the Lord as their Saviour and their faith that he had saved them. “

Going for a Ride, John’s story as told by Alzie

One week in August, our neighbors north of us engaged John to take their calf to water each day while they were all at work. The calf was about six months old, a thoroughbred red, and well fed and strong. The calf had been snapped with a long rope to the clothes line south of the house. John had to unsnap the rope to get the calf over to the well for watering. The calf got to feeling playful after drinking, taking off so quickly that it caught one of John’s feet in the loose rope and jerked him down. With the calf skidding him around the yard at a lively pace, John seized the rope with his hands and attempted to ride in a sitting position while trying to free his foot. They went around the house three times, the calf bellowing and John calling for help. As they passed under the clothesline each round, the seat of his trousers got well “greased” so he continued to slide, until at last the calf darted into the open barn door and John’s foot came free of the rope. He was left sitting at the barn door threshold, looking sheepishly to see if any neighbors had seen the episode. A neighbor boy called out kindly “Are you hurt?” and John answered that he was okay.

Punishment Averted, Stanley’s story as told by Alzie

“At another bedtime session, Stanley had done some wrong to the other children and they were crying. I set him on a chair to wait till I comforted and quieted the others, and then I must punish him. As I descended the stairs after all was quiet with the others, I heard Stanley singing softly to himself (he was a sweet singer),

“Just say there is no other, can take the place of Mother,
And kiss her dear sweet lips for me, and break the news to her.”
Published in 1897, a popular song during the Spanish American War

A to Z Challenge : Over the Edge

A family with 9 children survives life on the Kansas prairie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The experiences they have illustrate the joys, sorrows, hardships and everyday life of the Midwest pioneers. This faith filled series of stories is true. The eldest child was my great grandmother Alzina Pomeroy Boone.

The title “Over the Edge” refers to the event at the end of this post. Had the story turned out differently, I would not be here to retell it.

“Our second boy was born on May 4, 1893 at the Holland farm. We named him John, with the middle name of Milford. He had a sense of humor, the youngest I ever heard of. When only two weeks old, he smiled broadly at Sadie as she patted his cheeks. We could not decide on a name for him for nearly two weeks. Sadie declared she would call him “Jack” if we didn’t name him soon. As we began to urge Milford to suggest a name, he said casually, “Call him John”. I thought he was just joking, but when he showed real earnestness, I didn’t wait long to ask that his middle name be Milford.

All four of my children were well behaved in company because of the reticence they inherited from their father. They had very little sickness, except occasional colds, and the usual complaint when teething and in their second summer. I seldom used any drugs for medicines for any of them. Foods such as oatmeal, tomatoes, fruit and vegetables could be used, I found, to cure about all their maladies. The most serious illness was when Esther had pneumonia every winter her first three years. Onion poultices on her chest cured her within a week. The first two winters, Ethel and John often had croup, which was soon relieved by packing ears of corn around them which had been taken out of hot water. Usually, if I began in time, I could stop the croup by hugging them close and wrapping them warmly. I awoke easily when an ailment disturbed some one of the children, and our God was always quick to answer our cry for deliverance.

North of the path leading from barn to pond and east of the house was the vegetable garden. Here, of evenings, all through the summer, one could see Milford working with the three older children close at his side. They loved to drop the seeds for him, or pluck up weeds, or anything to be near him. And, he was fond of them and proud when they preferred him to “mamma”. But, the new little girl (Esther) was somewhat coquettish in her manner. She was eight months old before she would go from “Mamma” to “Papa”. How proud he was though when the day came that she cried to go to him while her Mamma was holding her. I was pleased, too, for I loved my husband and wanted our children to love him most, and was happy to see them all so happy.”

In 1895 Milford bought a 40 acre farm across the road north west of my parent’s farm. Here he built us neat one and a half story cottage, 12 x16 with an attic. At my parent’s home, there was an old well or cistern. It was old, but oh what refreshing water the buckets brought up from the depths of the earth. A feed mill was near the well, where grain was a ground, enough for a half day at a time.

“In the winter of 1896 a near tragedy occurred. Wilbur Pomeroy, one of my younger brothers, aged about 11, was drawing water with a pail and rope to fill a tub for watering the horses. Another of my brothers, Charlie, who was about 6, and my little John were near by playing. John, who was only about 3 and a half, came over to the well and wanted to see how full the pail was. He slipped and fell into the cistern head first!

There was no curb, the rocks around the edge of the cistern were level with the ground and covered with a coating of ice. Water spilt on them made them very slick. The wall of the cistern was of shell rock about the size of a dinner plate and one or two inches thick, and was six feet down.

Wilbur jumped into the cistern after Johnny, and by straddling across, found footholds at the waters edge. He grabbed Johnny when he came to the top of the water. Charlie, anxious to help, slipped in and fell on top of Wilbur and Johnny. It looked hopeless and that all would perish, but Wilbur somehow held Johnny with his right hand against the side of the cistern and pushed him to safety, with Charlie’s help. Only God could help Wilbur climb those ice covered slick walls of the cistern and get all of them out safely. Although water soaked, the wind coming strong from the north, and freezing temperatures, they made it into the house.”

These stories were put together from “Me and Mine” by Alzina Pomeroy Boone and Pomeroy family letters.

April A to Z Challenge: Father’s Fear

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.

The Mad Dog Story, Part 3

By Sarah (Sadie) Pomeroy Postlewait, sister of Alzina

(A plague of rabies, brought about by a mad dog, continues to affect the pioneer families months after the dog’s death.)

Father noticed, one day the following summer, that old Steve the bull was doing an unusual amount of bellowing, so he made him a little more secure by adding a chain to the rope which already was fastened to a ring in his nose. As the evening shades settled down, Father’s fears seemed more assured. It was prayer meeting night. He made sure he had Steve secure by adding two more chains to his horns and fastening them to a large beam in the barn. Then Father and Mother went to church. They told Phebe, my older sister, their fears, but did not let grandmother or me know about it, for we were so nervous.

Phebe got us all to bed, then she sat by the window upstairs to watch. She could hear Steve becoming more and more fierce, pawing the ground, bellowing and striking the chains with his horns until she could see sparks fly. Finally, to her horror, she saw that he was loose. She thought about her parents.

At last they arrived, driving in carefully. The heard the clanking of the chains on the east side of the barn. Father mistrusted that Steve was loose and they were in danger. Leaving his team stand, he took Mother to the house and ran back to his team. Quickly he unharnessed the horses, and hurried them off to the pasture a quarter mile west. Then he ran to the neighbors house to ask for a gun and someone to help him. They gave him a lantern and two men came with him, but when they got sight of old Steve dashing toward them, with only one weak fence between them, they ran across the road and jumped into the field, leaving Father with gun and lantern.

One thing was in his favor. When Steve would make a dash, he would seem to feel something biting his hind leg, and would turn and begin kicking furiously. Fear seemed to give force to FAther’s movements, and in a short time he fired the shot that did the work. His neighbors came back to commend him for his bravery. (And yet there is more, concluded in Part 4, next post.)

April A to Z Challenge: Dogs and Animals

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.

Dogs. Dogs and animals were a great asset in pioneer days. Most families had a dog around the farm for protection, and as a companion, but these animals were part of the work force, not necessarily pets. They were not fed manufactured food and taken to the groomer. They were not even allowed in the house.

The next few stories are about some of those animals that belonged to the Pomeroy family when my great grandmother Alzina was a child. Her sisters Sadie and Emma were writers and told the stories well so I will not rewrite what doesn’t need to be rewritten.

The Mad Dog Story

By Sarah (Sadie) Pomeroy Postlewait

When I (Sadie) was a child, our neighborhood was visited by a mad dog. By neighborhood I mean exactly that, for it seemed in one night’s time, every farmyard was visited by this creature. Cattle, horses, and hogs as well as dogs were bitten by him, while chickens and geese were greatly disturbed, and a number of them killed by this rabid beast.

I shall never forget that dark, cold night in the dead of winter when we were awakened by some dog fighting our dog Carlo. They were going round and round the house with poor Carlo yelping at a great rate. Carlo had two little pups in a box in the coal shed, which was a lean-to built against the north side of the house. Father went to the door and called, “Carlo, Carlo!” As the dogs came near Father opened the shed door and went back to bed. But soon he heard Carlo barking and whining again so pitifully. He again went to the door. As the light from the lamp shone out, he saw this strange dog run away. It was not Carlo at all.

Again Father began to call Carlo, and going out to the shed, he found both puppies nearly chewed up. One was dead and the other barely alive. He brought the box into the kitchen. The strange dog came near the door but seemed to be dazed by the light. Father kicked the dog aside and it ran away. Soon Carlo came in answer to his call and he turned her into the kitchen also and shut the door, never dreaming that the visiting dog was a mad dog.

The following morning is indelibly stamped on my memory. As we reached the road on our way to school, we saw the Gardner children and they waited for us. Then we saw the Ellsworth children coming behind, and we waited for them. All were very talkative concerning a strange dog that had made great disturbance around the houses and yards the night before.

At recess the older boys ran out to play town ball, while we children played around in the school yard. Almost everybody had been telling dog stories, and some children declared their papa believed it was a mad dog. This added new thrill to our stories but I was sure it was not so, for my papa did not say so!

The ball game was going fine and the first runner was standing on third base, just ready to make his home run, when he heard a noise under the house, for third base was at the southeast corner of the schoolhouse. One stone was out of the foundation, so he stooped down and looked under. It was too dark to distinguish what was under there, so he called out, “Oh boys, there’s a rabbit under here!” All the boys came running, one bringing a board with which to hit it. They put the board in the hole and… (Continued in the next post!)

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things C

C for Cows

They are curious and will always look at you, which is good for pictures. Photo credit: Esther Armstrong

Back in the old days…

Often in the late afternoon, when it was time to do the milking, I was sent out to find the cows. Sometimes they would be waiting to be let into the barn (depending on how uncomfortable they were, needing to have their udders relieved). But since they had many acres of grassland on which to feed, they were at other times, nowhere to be seen. I would head off, running or on bike, in the direction they had last been seen, opening gates as I went. The cows tend to follow each other in a line, wearing a path about a foot wide, dotted with what we descriptively called cow pies. Being able to yell in a voice that carried, was also helpful. Our cows answered to “Cum boss!” and we always made the “boss” long and loud like a fog horn.

Once I found them, and got their attention, they would stop grazing and start toward the barn. Slowly I would urge them – we were not to make them run. Cows must think, because the thought of going to the barn would sometimes cause them to let down their milk. Nothing looks more counterproductive, not to mention painful, than to see a running cow with a swollen udder flapping between her legs, spraying milk this way and that as she trots. All in all, they liked coming to the barn where they knew they would get food, water and relief.

Our cows were all named, and they all had their own places in the barn. The barn was always prepared beforehand, with stanchions opened and turned the right way, and hay or silage laid out on the floor in the manger area. The automatic watering cups were checked to make sure they were clean and working and full. The smart cows would walk sedately to their place, stick their heads in the stanchion and begin to eat, waiting for us to come and close them in. The smarter cows would quickly stick their heads in a place other than their own, eat a few mouthfuls and then scoot into their place. They aren’t dumb when it comes to food.

Cows are large, warm, smooth haired with long pink tongues and breath that smells like hay, most of the time. They are very curious and will come running to investigate new things that appear in the field.  After being held in the barn over our cold Wisconsin winter, they would be let out in the spring and race around kicking up their heels, which was quite comical because cows are not the most graceful animals. They just aren’t.

Today I was taken back in time, as I once again went looking for the cows. I had a file on my pc, and wanted my favorite cow pictures for this post, because, yes, I had enough of them to have favorites. The cow file was nowhere to be found. This digital age has given them too many pastures in which to hide, except for these few stragglers who have finally heard me yelling “cum boss!”

These were the only cows I could find. They knew I was taking their picture and would have been on me in a second…

So, who has ever accidentally landed in a cow pie?

#AtoZChallenge: A Few of My Favorite Things B

For this year’s A to Z Challenge I’m being Julie Andrews and going on about my favorite things. I suppose there are people young enough to have no clue who Julie Andrews is or when she did this. Seriously, you need to watch “The Sound of Music”. It’s part of classic movie knowledge. Remembering your favorite things will keep you from being afraid, and who doesn’t need some of that these days…


I am seriously in love with old barns, wherever I find them. I love their muted colors. I love their changing shapes as they age, sag, and fall. I love the stories that are hidden in their walls, stories of people working, of animals taking shelter, stories of changing culture and times past.  When driving through the Midwest particularly, I have been known to brake suddenly and pull off the road to get a photo of a ghost of a barn so picturesque that I could not pass it.

One time visiting my parents in northern Wisconsin, my dad wanted to show me a barn he thought I would like. He didn’t know who it belonged to but it looked abandoned. And indeed, it was. Dad stood by the gate as I trespassed  investigated the barn inside and out with my camera.  The memory of that time will always be burned into my memory, with the help of those photos.

Dad waits
Dad, keeping watch while the photographer was busy

Old Barns
This was an unusual barn with angles I couldn’t figure out.

Old Barns
Hinges, latches, distressed wood beauty

Barn and daisies
Countless views in this field of daisies

And just as beautiful in other seasons. I couldn’t resist going back.

I think the fascination comes from my own childhood, growing up on a working farm, and gradually seeing the barn I knew well change roles. It contained the hayloft that was at once both the perfect playground and the source of my scariest dreams. It was the dairy barn where I learned to milk cows and hunt for new kittens. Later it was the storage place for furniture and machinery no longer in use. One section of it became the hen house for our flocks of chickens. As the leaks began and it leaned a bit, it was propped up with braces and attempts were made to put metal on the steep sloping roof. And then one night, in a storm, it went down completely. We weren’t ready for that and it was shocking.

One storm, and it was a pile of rubble…

One of my favorite barns is still in our family. It belonged to my grandfather, and is now a landmark in the greenspace surrounding my brother’s small housing development. Photographers sometimes pay to take pictures there.

The patchwork tin roof, where my grandfather regularly risked his life fixing leaks.

My favorite view from inside the barn

Barns stand for a way of life that is becoming less common. People used to build their barn before they built their house because it was a priority. Now they are more likely to be adornments on the “gentleman farms” of the wealthy. I am afraid they will become extinct. And that is why I take pictures of these beautiful reminders of the past.

What part of the past do you like to photograph, to keep alive?

*All photos are property of Shirley Dietz. May be used with permission.


A to Z Family Stories: T for Tractor

The symbol of power and efficiency on the farm – the tractor. We grew up watching our dad and the hired hands use farm machinery, and probably even more time watching them fix farm machinery, so it was natural that we longed for the day when we’d get to drive the tractor. Driving the tractor meant you were old enough to really help out. A mixed bag, according to my brother Ron (Stubby, at that time) since after he learned to drive the tractor, he had to drive the tractor, even when everyone else was doing things that were more fun.

One of our chores, before the days when hay was baled and shot into a wagon by the baler, was to go out in the field and turn the bales. They were round bales and if the grass was a bit green when baled, or if it had been rained on, the turning allowed more exposure to the sun for drying. Our first tractor driving lessons were always in the open field, pulling a wagon while “big people” walked alongside and hoisted the dry bales up in stacks. All we had to know how to do was push in the clutch and steer, and pay attention. Dad usually put it in the right gear until we learned how to shift. Since that season required all hands on deck, I got to help make hay. Other seasons, like plowing, planting and cultivating didn’t involve as many people so I didn’t get much of those experiences, but my brothers did.

I like all colors of tractors.
I like all colors of tractors.

I probably inherited a partial tractor gene from birth. Dad had it for sure. His idea of shopping, according to my mom (who would know) was spending several hours in an implement yard looking at machinery. At first it was tractors, but as he got into the excavating business it was bulldozers, front end loaders and dump trucks. Unlike Dad, my version of tractor love involves less grease and gasoline smell. I appreciate the lifestyle behind the tractor, and the clean, solid feel of a well engineered toy. Don’t get me near a John Deere store. (Yes, I collect.)

Ready to gas up...
Ready to gas up…

Even now, I am in awe of the work that can be done by a man on a tractor, whether it be plowing a garden or pulling a car out of the ditch. And every time the Smith men get together there will probably be some talk of “the Alice”, or the old “Massey-Ferguson” or the “A” or whatever letter-name tractor they liked best. Me, I stick to coffee table books, just sayin’…

My idea of a coffee table book. Call me "farm girl".
My idea of a coffee table book. Call me “farm girl”.

A to Z Family Stories: P for a couple different things

Picture board

Mom has been sorting through her pictures for years now, organizing them into albums for each of us kids and albums on different subjects.  She has so many printed pictures because she has lived so many years when printed pictures were the only option – there were no digital cameras.  .

My first camera was a Brownie box camera.  There were little, square lenses that you could take out on the top. In fact, you could take the whole camera apart and put it back together again. It was that simple.  You bought rolls of film with only 8 frames on them, put them in the camera and turned a knob to roll them into place.  If you were lucky you got black and white photos several weeks later when you finished the film and sent it away to be developed.  If you weren’t lucky you got underexposures, over exposures, pictures with no subject in them, pictures of your fingers over the lens, etc… There were so many things that could go wrong, and commonly did.  This was the only way to preserve memories of important times, but it resulted in lots of terrible pictures.

Color film came along but was much more expensive.  Then cameras improved and film had 24 and 36 frames so we took more pictures.  Still, there was no way to know if the picture was good until after it was developed and printed. And it still had to be sent to a developer for the prints (expensive) because few people knew how to process their own films.  Now we have digital photos and don’t know how we ever managed without them. We only print the best, for special reasons, and store the rest on disks or hard drives.

Mom’s photo albums show this history of pictures, from the small black and whites to the present near-perfect digitals.  In addition to the albums she has made picture boards of her favorite family pics.  She is not afraid to crop them, trim them up with decorative edges, and paste them on a cardboard.  Her philosophy – get them out where people will look at them more often.  If they sit in a box or a drawer forever, no one enjoys them and they are forgotten.

I found myself in this pic with my brothers
I found myself in this pic with my brothers

The picture boards hang in the guest room of her house.  Everyone loves to look at them and see how many times they can find themselves.  We see how we all have changed over the years with growth spurts, changes in hairstyles, added weight, and more recently, the wrinkles.  It’s not fancy, or expensive.  There are no real frames or glass (which would be alright too) and it doesn’t seem to matter.  We all love looking at pictures of our crazy, lovable extended family.

Mom's picture board collage
Mom’s picture board collage


We had a single milk cow.  For some reason which I do not recall, we named her Peanut.  This was the time in my family history that my dad was almost finished with farming, but it was still nice to have a cow to provide milk for the family.  She was a Holstein and a pretty good milk producer.  One cow is not enough to justify having a milking machine so my brothers milked her by hand morning and evening.  I might have done it a few times too but I was now away at college so I didn’t know Peanut very well.

There was enough milk that we also provided some to neighbors, which required that it be pasteurized for safety. The milk was heated in a metal pasteurizer, a gallon or two at a time, in our kitchen.  When it reached the right temperature it would shut itself off and we would cool it as quickly as possible.  Sometime our refrigerator would be so full of glass one-gallon jars of milk that there was little room for anything else.  As the milk sat in the fridg, the cream would rise to the top and we would skim it off and make butter. Peanut butter. There was also plenty for making ice cream, and just for drinking.  We were known as the farm where you could get Peanut milk.

There is something good about the memory of leaning up against a big,warm animal and hearing the rhythmic sound of that stream of milk filling the pail.  There’s a good dose of nostalgia in remembering the fun it was to try to squirt the cats when they came running by. It was good to live on the farm… just sayin’.

A Holstein, just like Peanut was.
A Holstein, just like Peanut was.

A to Z Family Stories: O for (ahem…) Outhouse

An outhouse wasn’t just something found in old cartoons and jokes. People actually used them and considered them a step up from … well, a chamber pot. I remember outhouse days.

My parents moved to a farm the year I was born. It had a two-story house, a barn, a sheep shed and an outhouse. The only water was in the barn and mom called it orange water because it was that rusty. Drinking water and water for washing clothes was brought out from town in large cans. There was electricity in the downstairs of the house only, and of course, no running water or plumbing. No bathroom. Mom was just thrilled to have a house of her own. The kitchen was where all the living was done. There was a bed in the corner. It was a safer time then – no locks on any doors.

The outhouse was one of the best structures on the premises, according to mom. Located just a short jaunt away from the house, it had one small high window for ventilation and a chair height bench inside with two holes, plus a child sized bench with a smaller hole. It was a deluxe model. The door had a hook and eye fastener on the inside and a wooden block handle on the outside that swiveled to hold the door shut.

When I was two and a half, before my brother was born, a bathroom was added which opened into the kitchen. A shallow well was sunk into the basement (dirt) floor and running water was brought into the house. Now there was orange water in both the house and the barn. However, the outhouse was still a common retreat, especially as the family grew. It had it’s own charm.

The farm had been bought from the Olson family. They had a son, Billy or Bob (we’re not sure), who went on to be an artist and a sign painter. Although we can’t be sure, we give him some credit for decorating the outhouse walls. Penciled here and there on the inside were caricatures of people and animals that were really showed quite a bit of talent. I remember looking at those walls, hoping to find a drawing that I had missed, wondering about the artist who had put them there. There was a supply of whatever paper could be spared, mostly catalogs and newspapers. Dad remembers what a treat it was around the time of year when peaches were sold, wrapped in tissue paper in crates. You can guess where the tissue paper went. I remember sweeping the floor and cleaning the outhouse and occasionally hunting down a spider or swatting down a hornet’s nest – not your present day bathroom hazards.

The outhouse stayed for a few years even after it got very little use. Eventually it was in the way and was taken down, the hole filled in, covered over. Another remnant of the past, no longer to be remembered, except of course in an occasional blog post. Just sayin’…

A to Z Family Stories: M for Milk Route

MDuring part of my father’s farming days he supplemented his dairy business with a milk route that carried milk from neighboring farms to a creamery in a nearby town. In those days dairy farmers put all of their cows in the barn at once and milked them with a vacuum system, one or two at a time.
The milk was poured from the milking machine into 10 gallon cans, covered tightly with a lid and cooled in a water tank. Full, the cans weighed 100 lbs. The cows were milked two times a day, which meant a farmer might have five to ten cans or more to be picked up every day. My dad’s job was to drive a truck to all the farms on his route, load the cans in his large truck and drive it to the creamery. Think back breaking work, seven days a week.

We didn’t see dad a lot when we were little – we weren’t usually awake when he went out in the morning and we were in bed already when he came home at night. For this reason, it was a real treat when we got invited to go along on the milk route. Probably because we were prone to bicker with each other, only one of us could go with him at a time.

I remember standing with my mom one morning as we watched dad walk to the truck. I was not happy that I wasn’t getting to go with him and was probably showing some attitude. Suddenly my dad changed direction and was running back toward us and I knew I was not in for anything good. I don’t remember the spanking – just the moment of terror when I realized I had pushed the limit and there was no going back and no hiding. Oddly enough, both parents now say that we were very good kids and they can hardly remember giving spankings at all.

The milk truck was the biggest machine on the farm and when I sat on the wide bench seat with dad it seemed REALLY high, probably because I was really little. One of the best things about the trip was lunch. There were no McDonalds or fast food places. Lunch was made at home by mom, was often egg salad sandwiches (my favorite) wrapped in wax paper, and they always smelled delicious. Mom has always been a food genius when it comes to packing food for people. There would be a little jar of pickles, some fruit, and homemade cookies, always cookies. We usually ate lunch in the truck and it was gone by the time we reached the creamery.

After all the milk cans were unloaded, emptied, washed and reloaded into the truck there was another ritual treat. This particular dairy had a cooler near the entry that was always full of packages of butter, and small cartons of chocolate milk. If we had been good, we got the chocolate milk to drink on the way home and it was the best!

My grandfather also worked delivering milk at one time and my father remembers the same kind of treat would be given to him – it was a family tradition. It was country life. Not many kids get to live the country life, but I did and it was pretty good.