Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kindly Neighbors

As I've noted previously, I grew up in a time and place where the change was underway between the non-electrical past and the modern mechanical, electrical everything of today. Here, I've chosen a family of the past who were our neighbors and have described for you a bit of of how they lived and the things they used everyday which are now not on,ly things of the past, but today can only be seen in museums.  I am a little windy this time, but wanted to show your part of the distant past I actually interfaced with while growing up. I hope you aren't bored with my windy description of some of those things.
A typical neighbor and farm in the community I grew up in those day would have been that of our neighbors, John and Ada Gillespie, in their mid-seventies , veritable personifications of the past.  It would be impossible to find a more kindly, neighborly, devout, honest pair than they. Their son Bill lived next door and had several children that were my contemporaries. Their home was more ancient than they and was a weathered, dark gray, clapboard house of one story. It did not have running water or a bathroom and I’m certain they did not feel deprived one least bit.
Their drinking water was drawn from a dug well located just off one corner of the house. It was outfitted with a hand-cranked windless, set on a small rectangular, cemented-chunks-of-rock enclosure about four feet high. The enclosure was covered with a shingled-roof erected several feet above that. The windless was a horizontal round wooden shaft, six or eight inches in diameter and three feet long, that extended across the well opening. A rope was attached to the shaft. A wooden bucket was attached to the rope and could then be lowered rapidly, or tossed into the water in the well so it would sink when it hit the water’s surface, and fill. The crank handle attached to the windless was then turned and the rope wound itself around the large shaft bringing the bucket, with its cool refreshing contents, to the surface. That water, which was always sweet and cool, was to me the best there ever was.
Adorning the well and the house were ancient, flowering vines. The well and the house were sitting within an oasis of large shade trees and a carpet of exceptionally green grass. No matter what the summer temperatures, that oasis was always cool and inviting.
West of the house was a two storied workshop and granary and west of that, a very large black, two-story bank-barn (entry to three sides at ground level with dirt built up on the remaining side to the second floor for entry to that floor). Just north of the barn was a smaller building used as a butchering plant. The horses and cows were stalled in the lower floor of the barn and the hay and grain was stored on the upper floor. Hay stored in the great mows above could then be tossed down through openings for the animals below.
To harvest the hay and put it into the great mows was one of my pleasures as a kid. On a typical work morning I would help old John harness the two ancient white horses, Bob and Dick, and depending upon which operation was being undertaken, hitch them to a mower, rake, or wagon.

John wouldn’t let me use the mower, I was too young. I could use the dump rake--more modern folks had a side delivery rake. The dump rake had great curved set of tines probably four foot in radius, attached to a bar running the width of the rake between its two large, spoked, metal wheels. Centered on the width of the rake and extending at a right angle to it was a tongue about ten feet long, with a double tree extending across it with two single trees attached. Two harnessed horses, called a team, one on each side of the tongue, their harness traces attached to the double trees, pulled the rake.
When the gathered hay filled the inside of the curved tines the bar was pivoted by shoving your right foot down onto a lever pedal which would raise the tines and dump the hay. These dumped piles would be connected forming long “windrows” across the field. The windrows would then be pitched by hand into hay doodles--small piles of hay four or five feet across and three or four feet high--using a three tined hay fork. Later, The doodles where later hand-pitched up onto a large, horse-drawn hay-wagon. My job, at first, was to drive the horses between the doodles. Later, when I could pitch up hay, I learned the horses had done it so often that a driver wasn’t necessary. John would cluck to them and they would move to the next doodle and stop.
Frequently, the monotony of pitching the hay up on the wagon where another person would distribute it, was broken when a snake, usually a black snake that had crawled under the doodle for warmth at night, was tossed up with the hay. Everyone was always sure it was a copperhead, a poisonous rascal. Much shouting and jumping would occur, followed by laughter at the escape-antics taken by the recipient of the snake.

When the loaded wagon was brought to the barn, one of the horses would be hitched to a “single-tree,” a wooden shaft about three feet long, six inches wide and two inchdes thick with metal hoops attached to the ends and another positioned in the middle. The middle hoop had a rope attached to it which in turn was attached to a large, two-pronged fork. The rope then went up to a pulley system in the rafters of the barn. The large U-shaped fork was three feet high and three feet across. Each tine of the fork had a recessed prong on the inside that was retractable. These prongs could be opened after the fork was buried into the hay on the wagon and a large “jag” of hay could easily be lifted off the wagon. As the horse moved away, the jag of hay would then be pulled by the rope up to a special pulley attached to an extension to the top of the barn where it would then move horizontally on the pulley over the mow. When the desired location was reached, a smaller rope that hung from the tine frame and attached to a lever connected to the inside prongs, would be pulled retracting the inside prongs permitting the hay to fall in place. My job was to ride that horse and stop him when the jag of hay was in the right place for dropping into the mow. To put my job in prospective again, later when I was big enough to work in the mow and there was no one to ride the horse, the horse had performed that ritual so many times that when old John would "up Dick,or Bob," whichever one was hooked up, off the horse would go and stop when John called again, then turn around and come back and patiently wait until the next jag was ready.

I wonder how many folks today would have that kind of patience to work with a neightbor's kid who unquestionably slowed down the progress of the work at hand. I doubt there are very many. Those were different times.

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