May 7, 201311:49 AMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
Toasting America’s backbone: How the greatest generation of my farm family helped till the soil for all of us
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Grandpa J.M. and Grandma Rose (third and fourth from left) and their nine children in 1941.
She washed, ironed, sewed, canned, and cooked. She milked cows and raised chickens, geese, and ducks. She planted, hoed, and stripped tobacco; shocked grain. She was pregnant a good part of the time, bore nine babies, and stayed up with them at night when they were sick. She had the older children bring the babies out to the field so she could nurse them.
That was my Grandma Rose, born in 1885 as one of 11 children herself. She did all this through the Great Depression, which started on the farms of Wisconsin right after World War I – before Social Security, farm subsidies, or unemployment insurance.
She never gave up, even when it appeared that all might be lost. “The only time I saw her cry was when Johnny set the barn afire when he was 4 years old, in 1926,” Aunt Burdette wrote before she herself died last year at age 94 – besting Grandma by one year.
If there happened to be no meat in the house, Mother would catch a chicken, wring its neck, and chop it off with a butcher knife. It was dipped into a kettle of boiling water to soften the feathers, then stripped, disemboweled, and cut into pieces before being fried in a skillet atop the wood stove.
With a large brood of chickens on hand, the eggs were collected ... and taken to the grocery store to be bartered for needed groceries. We often had cartons of baby chicks, ducks, and geese in the kitchen behind the stove when the weather was too cold for them to survive in the henhouse. Mother always kept one ear alert for raccoons and foxes. If loud cackling was heard, she would brave the night to see what had caused the commotion. It seems I saw our mother in overalls more than in a dress.
Neither Grandpa J.M. nor Grandma Rose attended school beyond eighth grade – both in one-room country schools, where I began my own education.
There were continuing fights over education between our mother and dad – he felt it was useless, especially for the five girls, who would marry, and as soon as the four boys were able, they were needed on the farm.
Many times these fights took place in the barn while the cows were being milked. On summer evenings when the doors were open, we could hear our dad yelling and cursing about education. Dad would end up saying, “Well, if you insist on bankrupting me, go ahead.”
Even so, or perhaps because of Grandma’s insistence, Grandpa made sure his children got to school.