WOSTER: Looking back at life on the farm


On the farm, we had a back porch where we stored odds and ends and oddities that didn't belong in the kitchen, living room, pantry, bedroom or bathroom.

The washing machine, a white beast of a tub with black agitator blades and a wicked-looking wringer, sat on the porch. My mom spent hours wringing moisture out of shirts and pants and socks and underwear before heading to the clothesline with a heavy basket of damp laundry and a bag of wooden clothespins. The clothesline was a convenient 20 steps from the porch door.

Next to the washing machine, we had a sturdy, stained sink. That's where we scrubbed away the worst of the dirt, mud and blood from our hands and faces. In a dish above the sink, we had a bar of gritty, gray "20 Mule Team" Borax soap, the kind advertised on "Death Valley Days'' on television. Using that soap was like running a metal file over your hands, but it sure took off the grime.

Jackets, sweatshirts, heavy coats and work pants hung from pegs on the wall to the right of the sink. I sometimes had to search to find a place to hang my Bailey U-Rollit straw hat when I came in from the field for lunch.

Against the wall across the porch from the sink someone, probably our dad, had installed a waist-high cabinet that held a bunch of glass batteries. Until the REA brought always-ready electricity to the neighborhood, we had a wind charger right next to the back step. When the wind blew, the fan on the charger spun like crazy. Somehow, that charged the batteries. When the wind died, the batteries supplied power to the house. We were real misers about using electricity in those days.

On a corner of the cabinet, a goofy-looking contraption had been bolted. It had a crank and a couple of spouts below a wide bowl. We had a milk cow for quite a while, and we'd pour the fresh milk into the bowl, turn the crank like crazy, and the cream would separate from the milk. The milk would run out one spout, and the cream would run out the other. I found the whole process fascinating. I don't recall when it became easier to go to town and buy milk and cream already separated, but at some point the separator disappeared.

Finally, in the corner beside the battery cabinet, the porch had a tall, narrow cabinet with a number of shelves. That held some of the supplies and equipment our dad needed for his self-veterinary work on the Herefords. It also held a collection of well-worn work gloves, some with finger seams split or rips in the palm from mishandling of barbed wire. Most of the gloves would never be worn once they were tossed into the cabinet, but they were just too good to really throw away, you know? That cabinet is where I found the black, cracked-leather first-baseman's mitt I later learned my dad had used to play town-team baseball in his younger years. It was no bigger than an economy-sized pancake.

In a nook by that cabinet we stored a few firearms — a 12-gauge, a 20-gauge, at least one .410 and a .22-caliber single-shot rifle. I sometimes used the rifle to plink at prairie dogs in the pasture west of the Hamiel place. I used the .410 and later — after I grew a bit older and earned some trust — the 20-gauge on pheasant hunts all over the countryside.

Our neighbors all had similar porches or mudrooms, places to stash anything that didn't fit anywhere else in the house. These days, I suppose people use garages for the same purpose. I don't imagine most folks today would drag a newborn calf into their garage to watch and bottle-feed through a wet late-winter night.

When I was a kid, few things were more exciting than having a calf on the porch getting dry and drinking milk. My dad and mom weren't as excited about that as I was, but if we hadn't had the porch, the little critter would have been in the living room.