Monday, September 17, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Farmhouse

When I start having days of feeling overwhelmed I go back and read the following passage out of David Larkin's, The Farmhouse Book. And I realize, it could be worse. I always feel an eerie connection with this woman. Some things have changed yet some have stayed the same.

4:30 A.M.: The woman awakes in the dim glow of dawn. She feels the space beside her, barely warm in the place where her husband had slept. She knows he's in the horse barn readying the the team for the day's work in the cornfields. She dresses and pins up her hair and goes to the kitchen. The old collie comes out from under the dresser, stretches, and returns to the same spot. The woman looks at the big fireplace, where she is grateful to see that some of the banked embers in front of the backlog are still pink. There is lot to be done in the first part of the morning and the fire is the engine of activity. Today is Friday, the main day for baking. The woman shovels some of the blackened embers into the back of the bread oven built into the chimney, where it will be easy to get it glowing with a handful of brush. Keeping fires going had been so important until two years ago, when the kitchen was enlarged and a new iron cookstove was installed. Bending down, she riddles the ashes below the stove's firebox and stacks, and then kindles its fire with sawdust and woodchips. Now to the stone-floored pump room and dairy where she fills a big kettle of water for the stovetop. There is a rhythm to her movements. She goes toward the kitchen door where she gently touches the big cloth-covered bowls containing the rising bread dough made the day before. Unlatching the Dutch door she feels the cool morning breeze and is grateful for the new wire screen above the bottom half. This summer it had allowed the kitchen a flow of air, dissipating some of the heat and decreasing the number of flies. She stands of the boards of the new porch aware that the farm starts at this spot. On the porch there is an accumulation of material that had previously been stored elsewhere: two stacks with logs of different sizes, one for the fire, one for the stove; a collection of barrels ready to be filled with apples; a large iron pot in which a mixture of tallow, lye, and a little quicklime will be combined to make soap; two rocking chairs that are barely ever used, since it's rare to have time to sit; various tools; and at the far end, a quilting frame. On the way back from the privy, she sees the thin blue line of smoke pushing up from the narrow stove chimney; it looks to be a fine day. It is late September and harvest time.
She stops at the outside pump to splash water over her face; while wringing her hands on her apron, she remembers that the old dog kennel is a favorite nesting place for one of the hens. She walks over to it, feels inside on the straw for a warm egg, and puts it in her front pocket. This will be for the coffee pot.

6 A.M.: Now with the kitchen warm, the family is called together for breakfast, with chunks of a day-old loaf, cooked bacon, applesauce, fresh milk, and leftover pie--everyone has room for pie. Family members eat quickly and discuss the work ahead. This is the busiest yet happiest time of the year, and the kitchen is the center of all farm activities.

6:30 A.M.: Breakfast is over. Left alone, the farmwife sips her coffee, and then methodically begins to work through the morning. The kitchen floor has to be swept; last night the youngsters popped corn in the fireplace and burst kernels are everywhere. She would not sand the floors today but would wait until tomorrow, before her younger sister and brother-in-law come to visit. As she sweeps, the task leads her thoughts to other rooms. Passing the downstairs bedchamber, she crossses the hallway to the parlor. This is where the young couple will spend the night, and it needs to be aired. As it is a seldom-used room, the only one with wallpaper, its contents give her a moment for reflection; the woman smiles to herself as she gazes down at the big rag carpet--recognizing in it the evidence of old family work shirts, pinafores, patterned material, and red flannel--even some green wool that was left over from when her grandmother's worn dress was cut up for quilting. In one corner is the flax spinning wheel that needs to be taken up into the attic above the children's rooms; in another is the harmonium she hopes her sister will play. There is a trundle bed, a cabinet with some best china, and in front of the old filled-in mantled fireplace, a small round parlor stove that may be lit if needed.

7:30 A.M.: After the room is made ready, windows opened, and all the beds of the house are made, she continues with sweeping and dusting, tidying up as she moves along.

8:00 A.M.: The daughter returns from milking and letting out the cows, excited by the thought of visitors, and she and her mother talk while pouring some cooled fresh milk from the churn into spotlessly clean pans set on warming shelves; the milk will settle and curdle. Cheese made days before is turned and the cheese basket and press are scrubbed and dried.

9:00 A.M.: With the chimney oven warm, the woman starts her baking, sliding formed loaves onto the back brick surface with a long wooden peel; the pies and cookies will follow and be placed to cool in the pie safe near the door. The girl throws feed out to the chickens as they follow her and the grain bucket; she keeps them away from the low-fenced garden and it's apple trees. Her task is to gather unmarked windfall apples in her pinafore and fill the empty tubs with them, lining each layer with straw.

11:30 A.M.: Mother and daughter hear one of the boys as he returns to the farmyard with the wagon full of unhusked corn. He lets down the sides and they enlarge the pile of cobs between the barn and the crib. It's dinnertime and all three jump aboard as the team heads the wagon back to the cornfield. The girl steadies a jug of fresh apple cider and her mother carries a basket of cold bacon wedged in hunks of bread, some cheese, and on top, an apple pie.
As they walk back from the field, the woman and her daughter talk about school. With the harvest coming to an end in a few weeks, the schoolhouse will reopen. The girl and her next oldest brother will walk the two miles to school every day. She looks forward to meeting and making friends. She is especially pleased that her young aunt, a teacher at a distant school, is coming tomorrow afternoon and wants to try out the family Speller book on her.

to be continued...

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