The most fun summer thing to do on our small farm near Bradford, Illinois, was “swimming” in the Spoon River down the hill and across the cornfield from the house. Mother would send David, Lois, Colleen and I there, with David and Lois in charge. The water was probably 15 feet down from the top of the bank; David would go down first and then wet down the bank, and we would have a wonderful time zooming down our “slide” into the water. As we got a little older, we would wade or swim our way probably about a mile down the river to the farm of some friends, where we knew we would find those kids swimming in “their” river. The water was a little deeper there and the bigger kids could spend some time really swimming.
The farmhouse we lived in until I was 8 years old was a wood frame house, with a large kitchen, and a coal cooking stove that burned from early morning until late at night. There was a living room that in those days was the “front room.” In the middle of it was a potbelly stove to keep us warm in the winter, and near the stove was a small round table that was used by the kids in the winter for doing homework/ studying. There was no electricity in our house, but there was a large kerosene lamp for light. Off the living room were two small bedrooms with a small bed in each. David got one to himself until Jerry (the baby) got big enough to join him. The other room was for Lois, Colleen and me. That was good in the winter because the three of us kept each other warm, as the house got pretty cold after the stove had gone out! In the summer time, we spent a lot of nights outside sleeping under the stars – as well as with the mosquitoes. On the other side of the kitchen was an addition to the original house, which served as a bedroom for mother and dad. Our bathroom consisted of a tub every Saturday, filled once with hot water from the cooking stove, and the kids took turns. The “rest” of the bathroom, was an “outhouse” down the hill from the house – not a fun place to be during an Illinois winter!
My favorite room was the kitchen, because that is where Mother was most of the time. It was especially nice when Mother would make her wonderful fudge, flavored with walnuts from the huge walnut tree in the timber not far from the house.
After we left the farm where all the children had been born, and moved into Bradford, my dad bought a “feed store” where he sold farm supplies; he sold baby chicks in the spring, and bought them back in the late summer/fall for sale to chicken slaughterhouses. Later on, Dad also commuted to Peoria every noon time to work at the Caterpillar plant. He did that until he was eligible for retirement from “Cat.” At the same time, they sold the feed store in Bradford. All us kids had grown and married by that time. Mom and Dad moved to Chillicothe (where my sister Lois and her husband live), but spent many summers and even some winters on a lake in Wisconsin. Dad died of colon cancer at about 55 years of age.
Mother spent her day working just as hard (if not harder) than Dad. She ran the feed store. (Dad would be out in the country buying chickens, delivering feed for livestock and chickens every morning – then Mom and Dad would have lunch, and Dad would head to Peoria for his Caterpillar job, from which he would arrive home about 1 a.m. the next morning. Mother would spend the time, while Dad was working in Peoria, taking care of the store, and keeping us kids busy as well. We all had money-paying jobs at very early ages. I probably delivered more papers in my sub-teen and teen years than I have read during my adult life.
But to get back to mother, one of her not-so- fun jobs was killing and cleaning chickens. When the farm wives decided their chickens (that they had bought as baby chicks from our store) were big enough, they would call and ask Dad to pick them up and mother to kill and dress them for the locker in town (for the uninformed, the “locker” was a huge community frozen storage building where would rent lockers for their frozen foods). When chicken-dressing time came, Mother was up before Dad would get home from the “Cat.” She would heat water to boiling to “scald” the chickens after they had been killed, so we could pick off the feathers. When Dad got home, he’d kill the chickens, and head for bed. On his way to bed, he’d wake up the rest of the “crew” and we’d all head down to help with the cleaning (and cutting) of the chickens. There were many mornings that we “processed” 200+ chickens in 8 hours -- from chopping their heads off, to chopping up the rest of them. Mother’s hands and fingers bore many scars from her “chicken- pickin” days, and my sisters and I still bear one or two scars as well.
I learned from my parents that each person is responsible for their own mistakes.
I learned from my parents that work is a good thing and not just something you have to do in order to live.
I learned that a family, to exist and thrive, must have each member of that family do their share, and to share with each other.
I learned that sometimes someone you love will let you down. You must forgive and forget, or that hurt will fester into something you will never get over.
I’ve learned that you must forgive a hurt from another person, even if that person has not asked forgiveness or even acknowledged that hurt.
I was 21, and your Dad’s ID card from the Air Force said he was 21 as well. However, that card was incorrect, as he was in fact 20 years old when we married in 1955. He would have needed parental permission to marry at 20 years in Illinois, and so he used the Air Force card when we went for a license, as he was sure his mother would not have signed a consent form.
He didn’t insist on “running the show.” He did his best to make me happy, but he was not a “Milquetoast” person. He was very intelligent. He was ambitious. He wasn’t afraid to step up and state his opinion. He had confidence in what he could do and the ambition and nerve to try it. Most of all, he loved me and he loved our children.
He did some things I didn’t like (he was many times more harsh with you kids than I would have liked, but he also made sure you were all independent and capable of taking care of yourselves. He also encouraged me to do what I wanted.
My business with medical transcription was not only because we as a family needed the money, but I needed the good feelings it gave me to run a successful business strictly on my own.