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First Half-dollar

By Frank Boyd

On that farm we had a big vegetable garden. All of us kids worked on pulling weeds and raking out rock and picking out rocks by hand. Those rocks would get used, mixed with mortar and used for concrete. In the vegetable garden, we grew all kinds of vegetables, lima beans, which I hated, learned to hate. We raised tomatoes, green beans and carrots.The springtime was always great, 'cause I remember grandma would bake fresh bread and we would have lettuce, tomato and cucumber sandwiches. We would take the fresh lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers and put them on a slice of bread with homemade mayonnaise. Grandma would make her own mayonnaise out of eggs, oil and I don't know what all she would put into it. She would make her own mayonnaise.

Or, we would have hard-boiled deviled egg sandwiches. She would take eggs from the chickens and smash them up and mix them with her home made mayonnaise and some chopped up celery and a little bit of parsley flakes or something, you know fresh parsley or fresh basil or something and mix it all together and we would make sandwiches on that home-made bread.The vegetables that we got out of the garden would get canned. I remember Aunt Garnett, Aunt Ruby, grandma Louella and great grandma Daisy Rockwell down in the basement with the glass canning jars. There was a big old stove down there in the cellar and they would cook all the stuff and heat it up and boil it and do all of the black magic that they did and putting all of those vegetables into these glass jars and sealing them up. The cellar under the two new rooms on the house was lined with shelves and it was there that we stored all the vegetables and stuff that the ladies of the family canned. We stored them down there. We also so stored things that we traded for like potatoes or bags of apples.

There was a big stock yard a few miles away from where we lived and the train pulled in there. There were always different kinds of things that would wind up there on the loading dock. The men in the family would go down with the various things that they had, that they could use for trading like the Rockwell nails or extra lumber or horseshoes or eggs or whatever it was that they had, that they had made and that other people needed. They would trade for white flour or red meat.

We butchered our own hogs in the fall, and we had turkeys and chickens. We had a couple cows that we pastured on the property. The back acre of the basic five acres of the farm there at Evans Manor, we used to raise alfalfa, and we would cut that hay and store it in the barn for the cows during winter. In Pennsylvania, that part of Pennsylvania in the winter time, it snows and you have to keep the cows in the barn. From time-to-time, we would have a horse that was on loan or we had gotten the use of or whatever. He would also be, the horse would be kept there in that stable too.

We had a bunch of chickens, and we kept laying hens and what they call brooders. There are certain times of the year when a chicken will start to sit on her eggs. When she sits on the eggs you can get baby chickens that hatch out. And so, we would be continually adding to the flock. We always kept a flock of I guess about 100 or 150 chickens of which maybe half of them were laying hens. We had no problem at all trading away extra eggs. Grandma and great grandma would make butter, and they would separate the milk and the cream and make butter from it. That was all stuff that could be traded down there at the stock yards; traded for other things that we needed like flour, red meat and bacon.The hogs that we butchered in the fall, you'd have one or two hogs, but that meat wouldn't go very far. I mean, you only get two hams out of a hog, and it doesn't take long for that large family to put away a ham. So, the hams were smoked and kept for special occasions, but like we would have a baked ham at Easter and roast turkey at Thanksgiving. Those were special treat things. The rest of the time you mostly ate chicken or you didn't have any meat, or maybe it was just a little bit of meat.

A chicken at six to eight weeks old is what they classify as a fryer and of course, those were very easy to come by with the set up that we had. So, we ate a lot of fried chicken. One of the other things was that when the hens would get so old that they were not laying eggs any more and couldn't be used for brooders or anything, they were just sort of nonproductive, and they were eating more than they were worth, then that became what was known as a stewing chicken. We would kill one of those for a Sunday dinner. We would do that on Friday and grandma Rockwell would start stewing it about two days ahead of time, but she would make the famous Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie which was made with a stewing chicken. The meat would be taken off the bones and of course there was always mashed potatoes, if there was any way you could get potatoes.

But anyway, to get back to the feed sacks, the feed for the chickens and the cows and horses, the cracked corn, the charcoal, the oyster shell you know and the oats and the grain for the horses, and by the way, I might mention that there was many a time for breakfast, I ate oatmeal that came out of the same bag of oats that was used to feed the horses and the cows. Of course, they ate a lot of hay also, but I didn't have to eat any hay that I know of. But, we would have oatmeal for breakfast sometimes with either honey or Karo syrup on it. Sometimes there was milk and sometimes there wasn't milk. It would depend upon whether we needed the milk for producing trading stuff and all.

But the thing with the feed sacks was, that in those days was, the days of the depression, the feed sacks were a cotton kind of cloth that was printed with a pattern. The women in the family would take the seams out of the feed sacks after they were empty and wash them out and iron them and that cloth was used to make clothing for us kids and sometimes for the men too. When I first went to school up there in Evans Manor, I wore a shirt that I was very proud of. It had been made for me by my grandma and my mama, and it was made out of the feed sack. Well, when I got to school the kids made fun of it because I had a feed sack shirt. Well, I felt pretty bad about that but it didn't last very long because if wasn't very long until they showed up with feed sack shirts too. So, that was an experience that I guess I had to overcome. I don't think I was scarred forever by it.

But anyway, the schoolhouse was interesting. We had a one-room school. There were eight rows of seats and there were eight grades. We had a school teacher named Mr. Fishman and as I said, these were depression years, so in midday most all of us, very few of us I would say, were able to afford "lunches" or had anything like lunch money or anything like that. There was such thing as hard money for that kind of thing. A truck would show up from the government and it would stop and we would be shown how to make little cones out of old newspaper and into those would go a scoop of like raisins, currants or different kinds of things. I remember on one occasion, the truck had crates of oranges, and we each got a big orange. I didn't eat mine I took it home to my grandma. I was very proud of that. I loved my grandmother very, very much and she was a very great influence in my life.

But, the subject of hard money has an interesting anecdote associated with it in those times. One.your granddaddy Rockwell frequently would go down to the stock yards, early on a Saturday morning and wander around the stockyards to see what there was in the way of, you know, things that could be bartered or traded for or what was selling or what was going on. It was one of sort of the social centers of the community was the stockyard because a lot transpired around there.

On this one particular Saturday, granddaddy Rockwell took me with him. He did that commonly. I would go down with him and wander around. It was all part of my learning process, if you will. In the old families, it was the grandfather that did a lot of the training and the teaching of the young men, and this is as it should be because the grandfathers are more patient. They are willing to take more time, they are not as harsh as the father are and one of the side benefits are, it does not create a feeling of resentment between he son and the father as seems to happen so much in modern society today. But anyway, we were wandering around down at the stockyard, granddaddy and I, and we wander up to this one pen and there were a lot of young pig shoats in this pen and there was a man in there as I found out later, the veterinarian. His job was to inoculate these pigs, these little baby pigs and put a tag on their ear. He was having a terrible time because you can imagine what a young pig is like and how wild it is, running around in this enclosed pen and of course the floor of the pen was just all covered with slop, mud and pig poop and what have you. Granddaddy stopped to talk to him and sort of joke with him about the job that he had and all, and I made the comment to the doc that he needed help, that he needed somebody to hold the pigs for him. And so, the vet looked over at granddaddy and smiled and he said to me "well how would you do that"? So I asked granddaddy if it was okay for me to help and he said sure. So I climbed up over the fence, got down in there, I don't remember what kind of shoes I had on or what kind of pants or anything else, but as one of those little pigs went running by, I grabbed it. I backed up against the fence and I spread-eagled it with my arms and legs and held it out and old doc he just loved it. He stuck the needle in that pig and gave it it's shot and he said "hang on to it" and real quick he put he metal clip on the pig's ear and I turned it loose and he said quick grab another one. Well, I turned and looked after awhile and granddaddy was gone. He was off doing something else. I started to pucker up and doc said " no, your pap pap said he would be back in a while, you just keep on helping me. I said okay. So, we went through that whole stock car or whatever it was, load of pigs and then we went over to the next pen. I spent the whole morning with the doc there, helping him inoculate these young baby pigs.

Well, we got ready to go home, doc and granddaddy were laughing at me. I'm covered with pig slop from head to foot and they took me over to some place there in the stockyards, hosed me down, cleaned me off as best they could and before I left, the doc gave me a big half dollar. A half dollar!. That was damn near a day's wages for a lot of working men. Doc made all the appropriate comments about how I was a hard worker and this and that and the other thing. Well, I have got to tell you, I was walking about a foot and a half off the ground. When we got home, I gave that half dollar to my grandmother and I said that money that comes in the house should go for the house and that I wanted to help too like the other men did in the family. And, grandma, she sat down and cried.

I'm sure a lot of people would feel that those years caused a hard childhood or that it was a deprived childhood, but I think hardships that were shared with family helped create character. I think that a lot of the good that is in me, if there is any good in me, came from those years.

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Copyright 2001 - Frank Boyd