Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Farmhouse - Part 2

1:30 P.M.: Back at the house, the woman and her daughter continue their work. The girl helps her mother shoo two plump chickens to be killed later back into the henhouse to calm them. Mother and daughter work together at baking tasks. The mother lets her daughter finish the work, while she goes out to the cellar, opening the sloping cellar door that covers its steps. With a lighted candle illuminating the whitewashed stone walls that also support the weight of the house, her eyes pick out the bins that are gradually being filled with root crops. The cellar's usual old vinegary smell is changing; now the woman's senses pick out the new season's mixture of apples, soap cakes, bacon, and the earthy combination of potatoes, beets, turnips, and parsnips. Here too are hams to be smoked resting in a barrel of brine, and festoons of sausages and head cheese hanging from the floor joists. She finds the basket of new mason jars that have made such a difference to her kitchen life; she carries them upstairs to scald them, so they can be used for the canned beets she will make with her sister. Just before snuffing the candle, she stops and sees in a bin near the door that some of the potatoes have sprouted. She pulls off the little feelers and turns the top layer over. She must remember to keep the cellar door tightly closed.

3 P.M.: It is time to kill the chickens. While her daughter boils a pot of water, the woman expertly kills first one, then another chicken. She tethers the feet, firmly grasps the neck in her strong hands, swings the chicken, and then cracks it like a whip until the neck separates from the body. Mother and daughter set the pot of boiled water down on the ground and the woman immerses the quivering birds' heads into the hot water; this will make plucking easier. The long, messy business of cleaning the chickens is barely completed before they notice that the cows are making their way back to the barn for the second milking of the day. This task mother and daughter do together. They spend about twenty minutes with each cow, resting a head or shoulder on the animals' warm flanks. It is getting cooler and soon today's last wagonload of corn will be in the yard.

6 P.M.: Suppertime. Everyone in the household is inside again; it has been a trouble-free day. A new backlog in the big fireplace rests behind the flames of small logs and pinecones. The family eats. The table is illuminated by the glow of a kerosene lamp--so much cleaner and brighter thatn those that burned on whale oil, and cheaper too. Family members talk about the day and the work they will do the next day before their visitors arrive. Then they clear away their plates, mugs, knives, and spoons. Everyone is tired and takes his or her place by the fire for a while; one by one they go to bed. The man is the last to go. He leans on the bottom of the Dutch door looking out at the night, smoking his pipe of the day while stroking the head of his old dog. He muses that the world is becoming full of inventions that are changing how people farm and live: new steam engines that can be used in the fields, wire that keeps the stock enclosed, and the windows, doors, and furnishings that arrive at the nearby railhead every week. Every time the peddler comes by there is some new device. Paying their way is going to be hard, he knows, but with the two hired hands who start next week they will get the most out of this year's harvest. The unused room on the second floor must be made ready for them. But more of that when he talks with his wife--if she's still awake.


Renee said...

Man I'm hoping you cut and paste and didn't retype all of that. I am just going to quit complaining about my days. Don't read my blog - I had already written it.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for indoor plumbing and microwaves !!!!! P lost his cell phone in field today and is in a panic. How will he know how all the other farmers yields are doing?? Things have changed !! LOL MOM

LRC said...

You make me tired. My heinie hurts. I could not churn or milk anything. Would they set me out to fend on my own????