life on the farm

notes from ginny 11.12.98

harriet said your great grandparents hattie and john johnson built the big homeplace for $3000. probably in the 1910's sometime. date i forgot if harriet said. but it was without indoor plumbing, except for a water pump in the kitchen. the old range - wood burning - had a side tank built in to make hot water. there was another tank as the well over by a barn in which things to be kept cold were kept, and kids were kept useful running to get things. also i can recall staying a lot overnite with cousin marie - my age - we used kerosene lamps - so there was no electricity in the house until ? ( back home as long as i can recall we had frig, plumbing, central heat so this was a contrast for me) we also peed in pots or went to the back house about 40 feet west of the house. the house had a big attic, 2 stories and not a large basement. we used to go there every christmas eve for gift exchange and dinner. i remember once we went in a wagon with sled runners o because the snow had so heavily covered the roads - perhaps in 1936. a legendary winter when snow piled up to roofs of some of our buildings. (those roads were not graveled, so beneath the snow was deep black mud!)

certain farm rhythms i recall - corn planting, corn up, haying, threshing of the oats (before combines), the women fed the men gathered - it was cooped - a big noon meal and mid-afternoon coffee and snacks. we kids sometimes rode on the high stacked hay-racks with handles of oats. the oats were cut by individual farmers - using horse or tractor driven "binder" which dropped bundles. persons following "stacked" bundles in shocks owhere they stayed until threshing day came, then they were brought from the field on hayracks to the threshing machine. the grain wagons alongside caught the oats o . the straw was blown into a stack - with help of a hardy man, a pitchfork getting the straw - into firm place to withstand weather. o

the oats wagons went to the corn crib where they were elevated into bins high in the middle. we kids watched this a lot. o

summer also means haying - an activity i most participated in - i sometimes got to rest on the porch couch "between loads" - i remember, i think, the summer i was eleven - 1938 or 39, i read 'gone with the wind' 1052 pages i think, on that porch. i drove horses at the head of the hayrack - o - and later the little john deere tractor - and we went down the rows of hay, cut, which then had been raked by side delivery rakes, dried maybe a day or so. we placed slings across the hayrack - 2 usually - maybe three. o fill a sling, then laid another. so by the time we got to barn - it was full. o i can remember one swedish hired man mel and i singing songs as we drove back from the field. then the dramatic elevation to barn o and person upstairs/ladder shouting "pull" to the one below to "trip the rope" and release the slings to the sling dropped the hay. and the person pulling with horses, or later tractor, was watching and stopped pulling. o

once i remember paul storming out and raising hell because we were using the tractor to pull the rope instead of horses. a good example of kind of conflicts that often developed between generations regarding the use of "technology" vs. use of horses - which made sense because horses were being kept and support to "work." (also though farmers got a quota of tractor gas - maybe wartime rationing was involved in quarrel). i think we had about eight big workhorses - and a riding horse i "broke" by riding him over the plowed fields - big newly plowed (deep) clods of black dirt. he couldn't "throw me" - get good fasting - and and i wore him out and he minded me after that.

in the fall was silo filling and cornpicking. i don't think any of us kids were ever kept out of school to work at these activities though some farmers did keep kids home to work then.

in spring of 1941, maybe 42 (i think) i saw an ad for a babysitter (nanny we'd say today) to help with children at lake okaboji summer house of interstate commerce commissioner richard mitchell. i wrote a letter to mrs mitchell and she called or wrote back and mom went with me to fort dodge for "interview." probably about june i went with mitchells for the summer and took care of marcie - age 5 while mrs mitchell took care of baby victoria.

maybe i was already being gowrie correspondent for the messenger then - i was paid something like 5 cents an inch for stories used. i remember calling in one story -- an ax murder of a farm couple by a disgruntled hired hand, but the editor said they already had gotten the story from the sheriff and had sent "real" reporters on that one!

the next summer i was 17 - graduated from high school and wrote to ed breen, president of kftu? - radio station in fort dodge. i read for him over mikes in studio several of the editorials i had written for the gowrie school notes ( i was editor two years i think). i was hired as a continuity writer and lived in a studio apt. with harriet and her roomie in fort dodge. i quit in late august to go to sui. i worked there the following summer - this time as chief continuity writer and even "co-anchored" an evening show of music interspersed with reading letters from local servicemen around the world. went back to sui. the next summer i went to yw washington seminar - the first national yw held. we lived in a private girls school in nw washington. i had two black roomates - the whole thing was interracial - a wonder then. i remember how people stared at us - especially when rommies and i went to a concert on steps of supreme court. and another incident on an interstate bus on the way to williamsburg. a colorado gal and i raised hell when the bus driver ordered a black guy to move to the back of the bus so a white person could have his seat. i recall the anger of the white folks when we pointed out the icc had declared no segregation on interstate buses. i worked that summer in d.c. for aged bureaucrat irene wright. another incident from that seminar : alger hiss was one our evening speakers. he forgot his umbrella so since i worked at the state department i got the honor of returning it to him in the old state building (now a white house office building - majestic victorian architecture next to the white house).

for my iowa years see the hawkeyes 1944, '45, '46, '47 and especially '48 - most pictures there - not all indexed. also beware of names in index - there were 3 virginia andersons in that book!

des moines register sports about march 1944 has pictures of our basketball team - 9 gowrie girls - included 1st cousin marie as well as genevieve johnson and joan blomgren ("shirt tail" relatives). we had "compacted" in about 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th grade "to go to the state" (tournament, i.e.) and we made it in 1944. we were fast and tricky and had great team spirit - we were all seniors that year. i was high point (hot) in the first game in des moines the whole town of gowrie was either in des moines or listening on the radio. i was told deaf uncle warner was sitting, ear stuck to his radio. we met wiota in the finals. they won. they were also fast and tricky and TALL. our team all had a and b averages. i took 5 subjects that spring including physics, latin, advanced algebra and also had the lead - jo in the senior play - 'little women' which we performed twice on popular demand. the whole town lent us old clothes and antiques including old pump organ - a pretty hot shot bunch of high school seniors - all in all!