Excerpt of Annual Cycle of Life on the Farm as a Boy
Written by Wilfrid Jury February 24, 1967
I remember potato digging, in fact all the fall work, as father used to go out west on the harvester excursion.
When I was fourteen he left mother and I to cope with it. Looking back I wonder how we did it. That finished my schooling but it gave me confidence. There was no time to get into mischief. Up at the break of day work until sundown. Mother and I carried on. When dad returned everything was in ship shape and we were proud of the words of praise. I usually had a day off to go squirrel shooting before Dad went up to Port Franks duck shooting for two weeks. Later he went deer hunting. The drive to the Port in the democrat was a long one, leaving home at 5am and getting there before dinner at George Hurdon’s, the proprietor of Waverly Hotel. After the horse had a good feed I’d start home. The horse knew the way; I didn’t. I got home in time to help milk. Then on a Saturday, two weeks later, I went up and got dad and his friend Jim. They had shot a barrel of ducks. We had wild duck off and on all winter.
Each year Dad would come home with one or two Indian relics that he had picked up in the sand hills around Port Franks. On his return from shooting, I’d usually have the fall ploughing started. We always summer-fallowed a large field. Other fields had to be ridged so they would dry out early in the spring, enabling us to have an early seeding. There was a long open ditch that ran through the pasture field to the swamp, this ditch carried off the water from all the drains of the entire farm. Through the spring and summer the cattle drank out of it. They also tramped on the side wall. It was a fall job to open this with rubber boots, a long handled shovel and a lot of hard work. This annual job was completed.
Each fall a general check was made of the farm buildings and house, broken window panes replaced, loose siding renailed, storm windows put up, and the chimneys cleaned. A long ladder reached to the peak of the roof; a rope with a logging chain tied to the end was pulled up and down the chimney flue. This was my job. Father had taken down the stove pipes. He removed the soot that fell down. Then the cook stove was thoroughly cleaned and the box stove put up in the front room. Pulling up the stove pipes often lead to harsh words. The only time I remember my father really cursing was the time they all fell down after he had struggled with them and thought the job was completed.
The woodshed was cleaned out on a crisp, dry day in early November. The wood that had been cut the winter before was hauled from the woods and neatly piled up to the rafters. The large knots were kept separate for the box stove. Mother always complained that the wood was cut to long, especially in the summer when a quick fire for dinner was all that was necessary. The CPR railway ran through the farm and we were always on the lookout for discarded cedar fence posts or broken telephone poles to cut and split for the kindling that was piled in a separate place near the chopping block. A hand axe hung nearby and the morning supply of kindling was placed under the stove to dry or sometimes placed in the oven for half an hour or so.
I recall that one late fall the old sow had a litter of twelve pigs, three were small and weak. They were brought into the house, wrapped in old woolen pieces of underwear, and placed in the oven after mother had given each one a drop of whisky in milk. Their little mouths were pried open and the milk squeezed out of a wet rag. Later they sucked a baby bottle with a nipple. In two weeks the little pigs were strong enough to take their place with the rest of the large family. They always remembered us and were pets.
The fall was a busy time in the house. The snow apples were carefully picked over and two bushels were rolled in paper. An apple peeling machine was used to peel apples, then they were quartered and dried on racks made of sieves out of the fanning mill. Dad made a frame and suspended it above the cook stove. This same device was used to dry sweet corn after it was boiled on the cob and cut off. We grew a lot of cabbages and made a large keg of sauerkraut. That operation took place in the root cellar. The cabbages were shredded, put in a keg and pounded. Salt was added. The trick was to put in the right amount. After it was made, the keg was placed back of the cook stove to aid in fermentation. The whole house smelt of it and it was judged to be cured. It was set out in the shed with a plank on top. A heavy stone was placed on the plank that filled the keg to weigh it down and keep the brine on top.
Late in November two pigs that dressed from 225 pounds to 450 pounds were killed, hung for a week, then cut up. If it was cold, some pieces were frozen but the most was put in the brine barrel until it was cured. It was then taken out, sometime in the early spring and smoked. There was always a treat of spare ribs. One year we made sausages. I turned the hand meat grinder all day, and packed the cut meat in the casings. An old German hired man mixed the spices and helped. They were the best we ever made.
Of course, the garden, where lettuce, radishes and cucumbers were raised, had to be dug with a spade in late fall. As it was small and at the back of the house it would not be ploughed. Mothers flower garden also had to be dug. Each year mother supervised this job as I was accused of digging up tulip bulbs and some perennial plants.
Around our place the fallen leaves were raked up and burned on the gravel driveway. Although the same chore had to be repeated in the spring. There so many leaves came from during the fall and winter always amazed me.
By this time we were looking for out fur caps, mits and winter clothes. Mother used to knit our mits. We bought a leather pullover to protect the mits, adding extra warmth. Long Johns were put on, last years socks and rubbers put on. For years I had a red taffacon cap with a tassel that was my pride. At last the cattle were tied on the stable and the sheep locked in their pen. The cat hung around the kitchen, sneaked in and crept under the stove. The squirrels were coming up from the woods and eating the apples. The chick-a-dees returned to the suet box. Flocks of snow birds were seen. The sleighs were put together and the wagon packed away.
All the corn had been husked and put into the corn crib. The stacks stood up around the mow and the rhubarb covered with light, strawy manure. There was talk of who would be the school trustee as the school meeting was soon to be held. The cord wood piles at the school could be seen from the house, donated by the neighbors, mostly by us.
Winter would soon be here. Wood had to be cut, preparations made for Christmas. The years rolled around.
After the coming of the automobile, rural life in Ontario changed. The beginning of the mechanical age has altered the way of life. The horse and buggy days have gone. They are but a memory.