Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sledding With Dad

Another weekend has come and gone and it was a cold one again, below zero.   I have to make a confession here, though, winter doesn't really bother me, in fact, I enjoy it.  I can't imagine life without snow.  (Does this mean I have yet another serious mental condition?) 
Screech thinks so.

When I was a kid growing up on the dairy farm, the coming of winter meant that chores could be a big challenge; doors frozen shut, tractors don't want to start, silage in the silo is frozen solid, on and on.  But the worst challenge was when our well for drinking water would freeze up.  We had a 'pump house' at the time, which resembled a dog house, and Dad would try to resolve the problem of frozen pipes by putting a kerosene lantern near the plumbing coming out of the ground, keeping the water flowing.   But sometimes the lamp would go out or the temperatures would plunge to way below zero, and we'd have no water.  It's always a shock when you turn on the tap and nothing comes out.   Cows are always thirsty creatures and need to drink.   

We had milk cans back in those days, to haul milk to and from the cheese factory, so we would take empty milk cans and head to our next door neighbor's farm and borrow water from them.  Mr. and Mrs. M were German immigrants and did not speak English very well, but they were learning.  Mrs. M watched TV as often as she could between her chores on their farm, and told me how she was learning English from the soap operas she was hooked on.  "As the World Turns" was very big back then, and I could only make out a few words here and there when she'd get going on what shenanigans her favorite characters were up to, but their names would come out just as clear as a bell.  She would wrinkle up her little nose and shake her head, rattle off some German and then say, "Ack, that Lisa wo-man.  She needs to find sense and settle down!"  

You could never leave without a jug of homemade currant or grape wine from their garden, and they made some excellent wine.  I wish I had taken pictures of their vegetable garden, too, I can only describe it as immaculate.  They had a rather large plot for two elderly people and it was situated right out by the road.  When they weren't working on the farm work, they were tending the garden, I swear they hoed and turned that soil over by hand every day.  Mrs. M never knelt to do her gardening, she always bent straight over from the waist.  To this day, every time I weed, I think of Mrs. M and her never-ending quest for perfection in their vegetable garden.  I would ride my bike past their house on my way to visit my friend and they would be hoeing and weeding, always with a big wave and a smile.  They are both gone now, and their home was razed and another family lives there, but every time I drive by, I remember the kind couple.

Anyway, back down memory lane again, we would arrive home with the milk cans full of water and using milk pails, distribute water to each and every cow and calf.  Amazing how fast a cow can slurp up several gallons of water.  While Mom and I  were watering cows, Dad would be 'pulling the well' and eventually he'd get it defrosted and things would go back to normal.  Until the next thing, and there's always a next thing on a farm.  

We did not have a barn cleaner in those days either, and had to drive the tractor and the manure spreader into the barn behind the cows and pitch the manure into the spreader by hand every morning after milking.  My father did the majority of the pitching, since it was heavy work, but my job was to scrape down the stalls and the alley and get down straw for the next day and freshen up the bedding, sweep out the mangers and clean out the cow's drinking cups and get down enough hay from the mow for the day, too.  While Dad and I were cleaning the barn, my mother was washing the milkers and the pails in the milk house.

As a kid, I loved to sled down our barn hill; it was so much fun.  And think of all the exercise....I bet I put on more than five miles a day walking up the barn hill, out to the road and back up the driveway and up the hill again.  I was basically an only kid, having a brother thirteen years older than me who was in the military by the time I was six, so I had to make my own fun.  Other kids in the neighborhood were tooling around on their family's snowmobiles, but not me.  I used to watch them zip by and be rather envious.  Though I never said anything, gosh, that looked like fun!

One day, out of the blue,  my dad took unexpected pity on my snowmobile-less life.   When he was done cleaning the barn one morning, he told me to go and get my sled and meet him by the barnyard gate.  I was confused, why would he want me to do that?  Dad was 45 when I was born and not given to coddling children in any way, shape or form; he was very strict, so this was a complete surprise to me.   But, not wanting to change his mind, I dropped the barn scraper and ran and got my trusty sled out of the garage.

When I was a kid, our road was little more than a dirt trail and we were lucky when a snowplow came down here and plowed us out after a significant snowfall.  All winter long the road was snow and ice-covered in spots with bare patches of gravel sticking out here and there.  The snow was too deep in the field down the road to actually spread the manure on the surface, so every day Dad would haul the day's manure a quarter mile down the road and make a pile for spring, when he'd have to pitch it one more time onto the spreader and finally spread it on the field.  (Farming back in the day was a tremendous amount of work, now that I'm 53 and looking back,  I wonder how he did it.)
Dad had pulled up to the house with the tractor and the manure spreader and was uncoiling a long length of binder twine which he tied to the back of the manure spreader with a flourish and then threw the other end of the twine to me.  I looked at him blankly and he said, "Tie it to your sled.  Do you want to have some fun or not?"

Clearly not wanting to miss out on any fun, ever, I did what I was told, and tied my sled to the manure spreader.  I guess I have to give non-farmers a little background on manure spreaders here....ah, well, as you may imagine, manure has an 'odor' to it, that's the first lesson, and the next lesson is, well, ah.....manure spreaders also leak as it's not just manure you're dealing with when it comes to cows, it's also urine (there I said it, sorry) and manure spreaders aren't tightly sealed which leads to significant drippage and leakage underneath.

But never mind about that, we're going to have some fun.

With my sled securely tied to the manure spreader, Dad climbed up on the tractor and we proceeded out of the driveway onto the road.  The bare patches of gravel were grabbing on to my sled's runners and making a lot of racket and our farm dog, Fido, was having a great time running alongside me and frisking about.  Dad could see me well enough to know I was still attached, so he shifted the tractor into road gear and we were off.  I was sledding now, let me tell you!  The tractor only achieved about ten miles an hour in road gear, so no, I wasn't flying down the road, but it sure felt like it.  I had decided to belly-flop on the sled, so my face was about six inches off the road and consequently also about six inches from the leakage of the spreader, but never mind, I'm having the time of my life!

We went zipping down the road to the pile and it was really fun, until Dad had to stop for the turn into the driveway.  We hadn't given much thought to stopping and as fate would have it, there was nothing but glare ice on this particular stretch of the road.   So, though the tractor and spreader stopped, the sled and I didn't. Good thing I had decided to lie down on the sled, I could have lost my head.

Despite dragging my feet as hard as I could, I still went sailing under the spreader anyway, and came to an undignified, very unpleasant stop only when the rope tightened up.  Um...are we having fun yet?  Not wanting to make my father unhappy because this was his idea, I carefully crawled out from underneath my malodorous 'snowmobile'.

He was clearly flabbergasted by my silliness,  "What are you doing under there? Why didn't you stop?  Come on, now, hurry up and unhook your sled so I can unload this."

I wiped some manure from my face and unhooked my sled and stood on the side of the road until the spreader was empty.  Dad then pulled the tractor back out onto the road and bid me to retie my sled to the spreader one more time, which I dutifully did and we were off again.  This time it was a bit more pleasant as there was a lot less leakage, and when we got back to the house, there was a bare patch of gravel that helped me apply the brakes. 

That was the first and last time Dad and I ever went sledding.

Snowmobiling is overrated. 



Hocking Hills Gardener said...

What a wonderful story Karen. I am so glad you shared it. I laughed and laughed. I remember farm days well so Can imagine the smelly sled ride. LOL! The things we use to made do with to have fun. I remember the time me and my cousins had this bright idea to push and then jump in and ride the hay wagon of of the hill. It was so much fun until we hit grandpa's coal shed. LOL! We never thought about how we were going to stop it either and we were lucky we did not get hurt or knock the shed down.

Zoey said...

Oh, my gosh, Karen, what a funny (although quite dangerous) story! I could smell that "leakage" as I read!

It does sound like the farm was a lot of work back then---I can't imagine doing all that work every day...I don't even spend that much effort to make my own bed cozy each night! LOL.

Missy said...

Great story. Can you imagine kids today doing such things - or the look on their teacher's face if they went to school and told them they'd been sledding like that. They miss out on great memories.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, this is a wonderful story! Do you know why my daughter and I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilders stories, because they were written like yours about real everyday life.


Sandy said...

Such a nice trip down memory lane,, something I have only read about, "A working farm" and it sounds like a wonderful life! My life was flying from one country to another with my family.. it was hard on a kid growing up to change schools and live with new people every two or so years...
Your life sounds wonderful to someone like me.
Thanks so much for sharing!

Sall's Country Life said...

Oh Karen, sitting here by myself and laughing my head off. That is so close to home for me, I can still hear my brothers and sisters laughing and Dad laughing harder cause we didn't even know we were covered with cow poop after sledding around a field covered with fresh cow pies! And like you, when I was starting school my siblings were all leaving the nest! I was left alone to create my own fun! I also loved to read about how tough it was on the farm and the chores you endured, it reminded me of how easy I have it now!! What a great post, thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Karen this was a funny story and great memory for you. A little dangerous and undoubtedly smelly, but you had a great time with your dad and I enjoyed every word.

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

Oh, I remember the manure spreader well. Peeewww. I can't believe you were sledding behind it!!! My uncle had a hill on his farm just a half mile from our farm so we would go sledding on his hill every winter. It was so much fun! Enjoyed your story -- glad you survived your day of sledding!

Rosemary said...

Having lived in the country quite aware of the manure spreader........ Farming was and still is a tough life..... still your story brought a smile, what fun to speed down the road on the sled.Tobagganing is such fun..

Corner Gardener Sue said...

You really do have quite the memories! I enjoyed reading about you and your dad. I'm glad you weren't injured.

When I was a girl, I loved visiting the farms of relatives on my dad's side in Iowa, and my mom's in Minnesota. I liked to sing to the cows in Iowa, and go exploring in Minnesota, where my mom's uncle raised bees and sold the honey to one of the major labels, maybe Sioux Bee.

I used to be envious of people who grew up on farms, but I'm wondering if I would have really liked all the work involved.