THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 8
Learning to love Life in Maryland
It is funny... I mean the things you remember about childhood. My earliest memories are of those between three and seven years of age when my twin sister and I were inseparable. I thought we were one person. That's how it is with twins. We lived with our Mum and our Grandmother on a farm in Glencoe, Maryland. Glencoe is north of Baltimore, north of Towson, north of Timonium where the state fair was held, and north of Cockeysville, off the old York Road. Our telephone number was "Cockeyesville “ 1..2..4..W " and our Daddy was overseas because World War II was underway. The farm was about 350 acres of rolling fields, which were separated from one another by crystal clear streams and unexpected springs, which would appear and disappear on any given day...The streams were clay lined and if one was in the mood, you could pull the gray clay up with your hands and fashion a pot or plate. In the early forties....today was today....and up to date....and modern....I did not realize that we were living a remarkably old-fashioned life style compared to today's standards. Looking back on those halcyon days...I discovered the foundation for my future career as a Sculptor of Dance.
The farm, "Bacon-Hall," was a child's dream world, and a place of endless fascinations. In those early years, the farm was our entire world, although there would be special occasions when we would go to dancing class or drive to Baltimore to see Santa Clause in the Christmas Parade..... But mostly we lived exclusively on the farm itself.
There was a hog barn there, which sheltered any number of pigs in deep mud; a true pigpen of the classics. It was also a place to store bales of sweet clover hay and golden wheat straw. The farmer, Mr. Sheetz, let us stand on the overhang above the feeding troughs and help him slop the hogs....The feed for the hogs encased in one hundred pound bags, were made of gingham, calico and muslin prints. These feedbags were deftly transformed into dresses and bloomers on an old singer Sewing machine by our Mommy who was a wizard in the fashion department!.
Close to the main house, was a smokehouse. A small, gray, wooden shed...rather crooked and set apart from the other buildings on the farm because that was where the hams were cured. We never went near the smokehouse. It was a scary place and always locked up...and now I know that it was locked up with good reason. There was a large chicken house, warm and friendly, with many hens and a few roosters to stir things up. And this they did on a regular basis because when the farmer's wife candled the eggs, we could pick out the eggs, which had baby chicks inside. We did not know exactly where baby chickens came from at that time in our lives, but it really didn’t matter very much, because we were short and every day was magic and magic needs no explanation. Life just is.... All we twins could think of, was finding those eggs in their nests and bringing home as many as we could stuff into our baskets.
There was another barn, far across the fields. Each barn had its own distinctive smell and there would be no question as to which barn you were in either.
A huge barn, dazzling white in the morning sunlight and accented with red oxide paint over a tin roof, loomed up through the morning mists far across the pasture. This barn... "The Big Barn" was the one in which the "girls" lived.... and there lived ten or twelve "girls" which supplied us and those living on the farm with milk, cream and butter. At milking time the kittens, and O" there were always lots of kittens on the place, would line up against the oak walls of the horse's stalls which were opposite the cow stalls. A stanchion held each cow around her neck to keep her in one place so that the farmer could milk her. Mr. Sheetz would grab hold of a teat, squeeze and spray the kittens with fresh milk, whose waiting mouths were open wide. The milk, thick and creamy would ark a path to the lineup of hungry little ones.
Easy and I would try to help with the milking. Mr. Sheetz would let us sit on his lap while he balanced on a three-legged stool. This task looked so easy, but our tiny hands were just not big enough or strong enough to get the job done. With my cheek up against the cow's warm belly, I would try so hard to make the milk stream from the udder to the kittens...but it never happened...No matter how hard we tugged and pulled on that patient old cow.
The milk was collected in silvery milk cans. Each one had a cap, which would slide snugly over the can’s long neck. It was carried down to the farmer’s house, where the milk was poured into an odd looking machine, which when cranked, would separate the cream from the milk. Milk was then poured into sparkling glass bottles and taken to the main house, which is where we lived. The extra milk was stored down in the meadow in a small stone, Spring House. It was always cool and wet in there. I remember standing on tiptoes and pushing open the green wooden door. One would have to step over a trough of spring water which was about a foot or so deep, onto a cement square in the middle of the room. Icy cold spring water flowed through the trough. The silver milk cans were placed into these troughs so that these icy waters would swirl around the bottom half of the steel cans, cooling and preserving the milk. This simple system got the job done. Milk, once it reached our house was kept in the icebox. Once chilled, some of the thick Guernsey cream was put into a churn. Churning butter was one of the farm tasks, which we children could do ourselves and imagine that we were real farmers, contributing to the running of the farm...at least this was true, in a four old's mind. Churning butter was great fun. We would take turns cranking the cream and soon marvelous yellow lumps of butter would begin to float up through the cream. These floaters of sun yellow butter were scooped from the churn and scraped off of the churn's wooden paddles. These soft clumps of butter were pressed together on a cutting board over the sink, where the excess milk would drain off the board and be saved for the hogs... and then...Voila! Butter by the bowlful!
The butter was salted and gently paddled into one pound bars which were wrapped in wax paper and stored in the icebox. Everything was cooked in butter on the farm. We never heard of the word cholesterol or diet… There was no need to. There was so much activity in each day’s work, that whatever you ate, you would work off your body in jig time! And with all that butter … butter on eggs, butter on beets, butter on Lima beans, corn, and potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips and breads and cookies and cakes .. lots of cakes and homemade fudge .. My grandmother lived to be 99 years old!
Oh how we loved our grandmother... She showed us how to shuck corn and shell peas on the back porch in the late afternoon just before dinner. We baked bread and rolls and iced lemon teacakes together. We learned to use our hands.
There were wonderful days in the summertime, when all day long only corn was cooked and hacked of its ears and put up in Mason Jars. There were Beet days and Tomato days and days for Peas and days for Lima Beans … Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Summer Squash and Winter Squash …O’ The earth gives us so much.
Chopping off chicken heads was also a favorite activity. I remember the farmer’s wife would catch the intended victim and clutch both of the hen’s legs in one hand. She then laid the chicken’s head down on a chopping block … and then hack- whack … and it was off with its head. Released from her grasp, the chicken would run around in crazy ways with its wings spread out and blood spattering all over the place. Then it would flop over and be dead. The chicken’s eyes blinked a few times in its head and then … it too was dead. “Does that hurt?” I asked the farmer’s wife ….”Nope” she said … “Not a bit.” With that, we gathered up the dead chickens and started skipping to the main house …. We left the heads on the grounds for the crows to eat … at least that is what the farmer’s wife told us. Happily we tagged along …. looking forward to the next activity which was to dip the bodies of the chickens into scalding water. This process loosened the feathers, which could then be easily removed from the carcass. I loved pulling off the chicken’s feathers even though this process was a very stinky one. The smell of wet chicken feathers is a smell easily identified and one, which is not easily forgotten!
So this was farm life … You could see a direct result of all the work that went into the farm. The fields were plowed with teams of horses. “Topps” and “Gray Lady” were huge gray Percheron horses and Old “Joe Cook” was a Morgan breed, a small but agile little bay horse, who was able to hold his own when he worked the fields. Riding on the backs of these gentle giants was a special treat at the end of the day. Mr. Sheetz would hoist us high into the air so we could grab onto the hames. Easy and I rode double. Sometimes I rode in the front and sometimes in the back. We clung tightly to the harness. It was a long way down to the grass below.
There were occasional interruptions to farm life. Once a month a salesman would come-a-Calling to the farm. We could spot his old black car, far across the fields, as he bumbled along Gillet Road and through the old cement pillars, which bore the name of Bacon Hall. Slowly he would make his way up the quarter mile drive, lined on both sides with tall green pines. Racing toward the old car and yelling “Hi Mr. McNess”, we twins could hardly wait to see what kind of goodies he was bringing with him. Dressed in a baggy, dark flannel suit, this friendly fellow, short, round and bald, apparently had time enough to spend with us twins, as well as to catch everyone in the kitchen, up on the latest “news from the front.” Easy and I would pour over his free samples which he carried in a large black suitcase. It contained all sorts of flavorings, such as pure vanilla and lemon extracts, puddings, herbs and spices, all of which were manufactured by a company named “The McNess Company”…. so quite naturally we children called him: “Mr. McNess.”
Sometimes the Fuller-Brush-Man showed up. The grownups were always very interested in his stuff. They would slide their hands back and forth over each brush handle and scrubber, holding each one up to scrutinize its size and shape, and then imagine, how it would be of great benefit to the performance of their kitchen chores. After careful examination, a change purse appeared from my Grandmother’s pocket book. A purchase was made amid much chatter and the wire spring would smack shut the screen door in the kitchen. The Fuller Brush Man was gone.
There was a lot to do on the Farm. Everyone had something to do. I do so miss my Grandmother. I was with her when we cut off puppy dog tails and cropped their ears at the Vets, and with her when we pulled ticks off of the dogs and rubbed their bodies in yellow sulfur and lard … That was the best remedy of the day. I don’t know if it did any good but the dogs seemed grateful for the attention. She taught me to braid the pony's manes and tails and how to ride them, how to love them and care for them and clean them and polish their tack. I never remember an unkind word or a word of disapproval.