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Life on the acreage

Food For Thought

Although we lived in town with neighbors all around, life on Washington Street was significantly different from the way it had been on First Street where I’d had many neighborhood playmates. There had been, besides Norma Jo and Charles, the Craig twins, Bobby and Beverly; Jackie Slatterback; Dwight and Dwayne Stone; Bert Reynolds; Gladys Fee and Les Stevens. We’d spent summer twilights at games of hide-and-seek, played kick-the-can in the street in front of my house, read comic books in Jackie’s tree house by the creek, enjoyed rides on Johnny’s bicycle handlebars and played with his baby sister as if she were a live doll. We attended each other’s birthday and Halloween parties, engaged in snowball fights and splashed in puddles together after summer storms.
Three classmates lived within a block of our new house (Tom, Rosemary and one of the Baty boys) but, except for a couple rare winter days of sledding on Avery’s Hill, we never played together as a group. I think that was probably due to the business of living up to Dad’s dream of life on the acreage. He did, indeed, start an ambitious orchard with a variety of apple, peach and plum trees, in addition to the pear trees already there. Oddly enough, he planted no cherry trees, but there were several neighbors with remnants of the former cherry orchards once spreading over that part of town, and we seemed to have plenty for pies and jam. The garden seemed to get bigger every year and we learned about several vegetables we had never had before. I soon found out I did not much care for summer squash or overgrown eggplant and learned the truth about green beans– you have either only a modest crop or so many you can’t even give them away. There is no middle ground. I also learned to love gardening and was right there with Dad for most of the planting, weeding and harvesting.
There was a large strawberry bed, just going into its third year, when we moved there and Mother, my sisters and I spent most of our early summer mornings bent over picking the luscious ruby berries Mother usually turned into preserves or fed us in the form of elegant strawberry shortcakes buried under clouds of thick whipped cream. She tried canning some of them for later use but none of us liked them canned. By the next year, Dad purchased a large chest freezer and we filled it with fruits and vegetables and Ferdinand, the steer Dad had fattened for butchering,
We had two milk cows, a small flock of chickens, and a pair of runt pigs someone had given Dad that we named Gildersleeve and Peevee. We discovered pigs made fairly good pets and are more intelligent and more compatible to humans than we had imagined. Those two had pretty much the run of the place, being penned only at night, and they seemed to like being in our company.
One day in late June, after we had picked a crate of strawberries Mother arranged to sell to a woman she knew, we set the crate near the car and went into the house for lunch. It was a hot day for June and Mother had agreed to take us to the swimming pool after she delivered the berries. While we were gathering our towels and swim suits, Mother went out to load the berries into the car and discovered two little pigs who seemed to have been fighting– they appeared to be covered in blood, as if they had viciously gnawed and bitten at each other. Her alarm was short-lived, at least in regard to the pigs, and was soon switched to dismay as she spotted the remnants of a whole crate of strawberries mashed to a red pulp oozing from the corners of the little wooden strawberry baskets. We later had a strawberry-loving dog, but at least she picked her own berries.
Dad also had the notion he could raise enough corn and hay to feed the livestock over the winter. The corn patch, which may have amounted to three acres, involved a lot of intensive hand labor, most of which had to be done on some of the hottest days of summer. Too small to justify the purchase of farm machinery, it was planted, cultivated and harvested by hand– mostly by three itchy, bug-bitten, sweaty girls who complained loudly the whole time.
By way of apology, when he realized it had hardly been worth the effort, Dad moved up his estimated date for acquiring a pony someday and surprised us by bringing home a rather elderly but extremely gentle old Welsh pony named Champ. Champ’s heyday was sometime in the remote past, but he enjoyed lots of brushing, having his mane and tail untangled and freed of burs, and playing circus where all he had to do was stand still and let us braid ribbons into his mane and practice standing up on his back. He wasn’t much for galloping around the center ring, though.