My parents raised a few crops and lots of children on a small farm near Cobourg Ontario. At age 72, this seems an appropriate time to reminisce about some of my favourite memories of living on a farm from 1947-1965. This post may bring a smile to my young granddaughter’s Chloe and Kelsey and may give my ‘town’ friends a glimpse into what they missed (or not) on missing out on this experience. A second post on farm life in the 1960’s can be found here : A Child’s Memories of the Farm in the 1960’s.
Born in 1947, the eighth child of eleven; seven sisters and three brothers, some memories have dimmed while others seem like yesterday. The first vivid memory was of two gigantic work horses by the name of Mack & Jerry. These guys were likely very tame but they went berserk when my brother Ron was near, maybe he had mistreated them at one time. This is when I learned what ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ meant, these were verbal commands for the horses to turn left or right. A few years later my father came home with a ‘new’ used Case tractor he purchased from the Carl Curtis Farm Equipment in nearby Baltimore. How I loved that old tractor, but more on that in a future post.
On looking back, it seems impossible that the old ‘mill’ house with only four (plus one) bedrooms could house eleven children and our parents. The fifth bedroom was on the main floor of the house and was mostly used as the ‘quarantine’ room used to house any of us when sick. While we were in this room, we were fed a simple meal of ‘kettle broth’ a term it seems were only known to us! This was simply a piece of bread soaked in very hot water, drained and drenched with butter and black pepper. It tasted surprisingly good and was followed by flat Ginger Ale, Who knew ginger is very healthy! When one of us was sick with a cold, mumps, measles or scarlet fever we could all expect to get sick quarantined or not!
I guess I was a rebel even back then! After being warned several times not to enter the garage/drive shed, I couldn’t resist. It was a bitter cold winter day and I knew there were so many things in there to explore such as my dad’s tools, pieces of lumber to build things and of course to play on the Case. One problem, the door was held shut by a long steel pry bar leaning against it from the outside. I really should have moved it away from the door, now I was locked inside! With no one within earshot and too scared to yell for help, what was iI to do? With the temperature well below freezing, I finally braved breaking a pane of glass in the window and squeezing my way through it to freedom. It was very likely my father never knew how the window got broken.
On another cold winter day I decided to play on the ice of a deep pond nearby. After a few minutes in the middle of the pond, I suddenly found myself submerged up to neck in water! Not knowing how to swim I somehow dragged myself to shore. Again, fearing the wrath of my parents, I sneaked upstairs to my room and changed into some dry clothes. My mother never questioned the pile of wet clothing but must have figured out the truth of what happened, but as I was okay, considered it a life-learning experience for me.
One of my favourite memories of my childhood days on the farm was the two streams on the property. We would spend countless hours exploring them and when Summer arrived we would build our own swimming pools in the stream. With shovels in hand, we would dig up sods from along the stream and lay them across the water several feet wide and high. This usually created a pond waist deep, enough to swim in and dive into, that is until the next heavy rain usually washed out all that labour! If the dam was only partially destroyed, no problem, we would repair the damage or re-build in another spot in the stream. This stream also provided a good excuse to miss the mandatory Sunday school or church service as I was nowhere to be found, I had gone fishing! Building my own ‘tree fort’ was another favourite pastime. With a saw in hand I would wander the farm for the best tree and location for this large undertaking. It was a lot of work but it would provide me a ‘space’ of my own away from the rest of the world. These building experiences may well have aided me in helping my dad build a new brick chimney on the house in preparation for the new combination wood/coal furnace in the basement of the house. This would replace the space heaters in the house. My father was a ‘master of all trades’ from building houses, electrical wiring, plumbing and farming. Some of these skills I picked up from my father, but they seemed to have eluded my two sons, but they never experienced the farm life I did.
My father always had a contract to supply and deliver telephone poles for Bell at their Coldsprings Exchange. We would head for the woods in the Fall to cut the tallest, straightest cedar trees we could find. After the trees were felled, they would have to dry on the ground for a year at which time we would debark them in preparation to load them onto the hay wagon for their trip to nearby Coldsprings. This was definitely a ‘two man’ job. A couple of large planks from the wagon to the ground, with the use of a special tool called a ‘Cant-Hook’ allowed us to roll those massive logs up onto the wagon.
I well remember Christmas on the farm. We always had plenty of snow in those years when us kids would head for the woods for our tree, almost always selecting a seven foot cedar taking what seemed like hours to find the right one. We would fashion the tree’s stand from one by six inch planks and hit the attic for the lights and decorations. Christmas was the only time of year we ever tasted an orange and we only received an article of clothing and a toy each. Peering through an old stove pipe hole in my bedroom floor I could see my father playing with my new ‘Tonka’ truck on the table below. That old stove pipe hole was in constant use during the year when my parents had company and we thought we might be missing out on something going on below.
Winter fun included tobogganing on the many farm hills. We would usually receive a ‘family gift’ of a toboggan for Christmas, but if not a large piece of cardboard would suffice, especially fast on ice coated snow! We loved ice skating, usually purchased ‘second-hand’ and would walk a mile to a pond on the Lean farm. After clearing the snow and if our older siblings were with us, a bonfire made for a warm and unforgettable day for us younger kids.
The ‘rebel’ strikes again, at about the age a six I remember lying in bed and having to urinate. I guess I was too lazy to dress and go down downstairs to the only bathroom in the house. It seemed like a good idea just to raise the bedroom window and let it go. Not a very good idea after all! My father was on his way to the barn using the door directly under that window! On hearing him yell out my name I answered! In hindsight, I should have pretended to be sleeping and maybe he would have blamed my brother Bill who was sound asleep at he time.
In my later years of public school I decided to take on a paper route for the Toronto Star. I would pick up the dozen papers at the general store at three pm every day after school and fold them neatly for the paper delivery bag. Off I would go for the two mile trip to deliver them. Even then I seemed to get myself into trouble, who knows how many times this happened, but opening a storm door and without looking throwing the paper between the homes doors and hearing a loud crash and seeing milk running out under the door! This was when people had their milk delivered and the milkman would put the glass bottles of milk between the doors. I never once received a complaint and was always paid for the paper without question.