The small building with a white ceiling was busy at milking time because it housed the milk separator. The cream was sold, and the skim fed to the hogs that were born in A-frame huts and roamed outside.
The growing pigs were addicted to skim milk. The animals squealed at the sight of the milk pails and raced to the V-shaped wooden trough.
The pigs, which weren’t rushed to make market weight, were fed ear corn in the dirt and slop that in summer was infested with bugs. Dad, who had a favorite swine breed like all others did when most every farm had hogs, had his boys dip feed from the slop barrel.
The hogs, although an important income source, played second-fiddle to the cow herd. The small dairy barn’s limestone and rock foundation had been laid by craftsmen who had learned their skills in the nations of their birth.
Before milk machines, eight cows were milked by Dad’s oldest sons. Gutter manure was hauled out in a wheelbarrow that was pushed up wooden planks and then dumped on a hay rack.
It was hard work, but nonetheless a desired chore on Sunday mornings because it meant that one sibling would be allowed to skip church. Mother condoned, but didn’t like, someone skipping church.
There were no drinking cups in the barn, so the cows drank from a large cattle tank that contained bullheads and algae in summer and was frozen over in winter. A mix of wood and corncobs burned in a small makeshift unit cleared the ice and the cattle drank until they shivered in the cold.
A dump rake helped harvest hay that was put up loose. The mow was extremely dusty in summer and fall. It was also a good place for Dad to hide his tobacco — at least it was until his sons discovered the hiding place.
Dad, when he was most in need of money, would sell his best cow or two to a livestock jockey, which made it difficult to build better herd genetics. However, he was left with little alternative because the rented farm was small, and the family was large.
Mother didn’t need much money to get by. A large garden produced vast amounts of potatoes, strawberries, raspberries and other produce. Leghorn chickens — lean and small by today’s standards — were purchased in spring. The first roosters were taken early in July and hens left to run until fall turn cold.
Spent hens were butchered in the fall and their meat canned, along with pork and beef. It was a good week when only sugar and flour were needed from the small grocery store, along with occasional ground coffee beans. Mother had endured the barley-based coffee of the Great Depression years but never liked it much.
Mother made coffee in a kettle on the stove and stretched the grounds to the limit. Shells from an egg or two helped to remove any bitterness from the coffee.
Dad, who had coffee with nearly every meal, was a creature of habit. He dunked a slice of bread lathered with butter in each cup. Because he had lost all his teeth to disease in his 40s, most of the meat he consumed was run through a grinder.
Ma and dad were never wealthy, but they did fine with what they had. They didn’t have health insurance and relied on their own wisdom and that of self-taught neighbors to help them when their children became ill.
The barn and the chicken coop on the rented farm place remain, as do the memories of a time when surviving financially required a spectacular amount of self-reliance and good fortune.