Thistles Cut, Ironing Done


When I was a child many people set up their housekeeping on a farm with the idea of making it their home as long as they lived - or until they retired. My father had a dream of a bigger farm than the one hundred-sixty-acre Card Farm.

Ed Menke and his wife, Elva, lived on the farm that had been his home since boyhood. When their little daughter, Verrell, died a tragic death at their home their grief was overwhelming. They decided to sell the farm. My Dad traded the Card Farm in on their two hundred twenty acres in the southeast corner of Green Lake County. Although the Menke farm was less than fifteen miles from where we lived it was an area which we seldom visited or even passed through. There was little reason for us to make trips to Mackford Prairie over the country roads with horse and buggy or our slow moving Overland car in the early 1920's.

Moving days were either in April or in October to accommodate a farmer's work. We moved in October of 1923. My aunts and uncles who lived near us helped pack and carry our household goods on to hay-rack wagons. It was an all day trip for them to go to the new farm and return to their own homes by night.

After working and living in the Card Farm house sixteen years my mother was very homesick on the Menke Farm. It seemed a "far away" place and all the neighbors were strangers. Even though the Menke house was a fine big square house with five pleasant rooms downstairs and five bedrooms and a hall upstairs, it didn't help Mother's feelings.

My father promptly had the electric light plant installed in the big basement. A section of the sewing room was made into a bathroom and plumbing was put in. All the rooms were re-papered and painted. My parents worked into the late hours of the night taking layers of paint off the woodwork and removing wallpaper in readiness for the paperhangers and painters. Closets were built and a section of a front parlor walled off for a pantry that opened into the kitchen. It was in this house that I remember a hanging shelf in the basement where we kept foods cooler. "Zona, Can you run down cellar and bring up the butter for supper?" was a frequent request. I am interested that the phrase "run down" was used. In recent years we have had neighbors who commented when I ran to our mailbox or did errands on our yard.

As I look around my home now, I see things that were with us on that moving day in 1923. On a chest in our dining room is a set of child's white china dishes. They were under the Christmas tree when I was six years old. Sheldon and I used them when we "played house." During the two years that I went to Maplewood School we had a box social. My mother fixed a pretty box of food for herself and one for me for the sale. She covered mine with white crepe paper and trimmed it with crepe paper ruffles. After the social the box became a container for my toy dishes. They rode safely to the Menke Farm and survived all succeeding moves. In the 1960's I determined to see what we really had in our storage rooms here in Nashville. I found the yellowed crepe paper-covered box with the little dishes. I was pleased that they were still intact, but I was just as pleased to find them in the same box. What memories! My mother must have once been young enough to look forward to a box social, where even though she plainly told my father what her box looked like he tormented her by letting other men bid on it for a while. Also she was young enough to want to decorate two boxes, a task that required patience and time away from her regular duties.

Several pieces of furniture from that long ago day are here. In our kitchen we had several painted wood chairs. One of them set close to the kitchen range. It was a place to absorb the warmth on winter days. One day my parents were away when Sheldon and I got home from school. There were chores for Sheldon to do outside. It was my duty to start fixing the supper. I knew how to cut up the left over boiled potatoes and fry them. I could warm up meats and vegetables, Mother had ready. After I had set the table in the dining room I sat down on that chair, hooked my heels on its rung and prepared to enjoy the warmth while I read the book I had brought home from school, Treasure Island. Soon I was lost in young Jim Hawkins' story with its frightening characters. Stevenson's vivid descriptions of the Captain Flint with his scarred face, Black Dog, and the vicious blind Pew, kept me reading intently. The Captain's request that Jim keep his "weather eye open for a seafaring man with one leg," promised more dangers to come. I was relieved when Dad and Mother came home. Even so part of my mind was still in Jim's world at the Benbow Inn. As soon as my evening duties were done I took the book with me when I went to bed to read as late as I dared.

Many kinds of equipment were needed for farming. Although we had a Titan Tractor horses were still very much a source of power. On that moving day we packed the horse blankets. When my father made a trip to town on business on a winter day the blankets were put over the horses as the team was left to wait at the curb. Horses were warm enough as long as they were moving but a good farmer protected them from cooling off too much as they stood still. Now, in Nashville I still have a woolen horse blanket carefully stored. It is necessary to protect it each year from moths, but I still am unable to part with it.

One of the rocking chairs that was in our living room on the Card Farm is still my favorite place to sit. It is easier for an older person to go to a standing position from it than from the modern, soft chairs. It has been especially useful to sit in while rocking our babies and grandbabies as well as other children who have been with me. It takes less muscle power too to rock in it.

A number of my mother's fine dishes made that move. One beautiful fruit bowl was a gift to her from Dad's brothers and sisters on her twenty-first birthday. It is very delicate china. It not only moved safely in 1923 but has been moved three times since. A thick glass sugar bowl with its lid, and a glass cream pitcher are here too. From my early childhood they were on our table everyday. Everyone used sugar in coffee, on cereal and on berries and fruit cobbler desserts. We took for granted that cream was poured over our cooked oats or other cereals. A vinegar cruet set on the table too. All these pieces made the move safely.

A white chamber pot also rode on the wagon that day. Each of us had a chamber pot in our upstairs bedrooms. Even though we had a bathroom downstairs we continued the habit of using the chamber pots during the night or when someone was ill. Going downstairs to the bathroom was not as convenient. This white pot sets in our storeroom still just as white and unlined as it was when it was new. The materials must have been good to remain unchecked after all these years. I keep it, thinking it may be very useful to have in an unforeseen emergency situation.

On the Card Farm the large fenced front yard provided a place free of chicken droppings where we small children could play or where guests might spend an afternoon. At this new farmyard the hen house was too close to the house to suit my mother. One of the first things my father did was plan how to fence the yard around the house. The fencing required gates to allow access to the barn or other buildings. The small gates were made so that a weight closed them as we walked through. Two gates opened to the back yard, one to the side yard and one opened out at the road to get to the mailbox easily. I was often happy that the yard was fenced in the years that we raised geese. Often the gander flew at me as soon as I stepped out of the gate to walk to the barn. Even though a goose was not as big as I, it was painful to feel the nip of his strong bill and the blows from his wings. Each time it happened it was somehow unexpected and insulting, because the geese looked to be innocently minding their own business until I tried to slip past.

This farm had an orchard and large garden space that produced very well. I remember strawberries were so plentiful that we had them three times a day in season and Mother canned lots of them. Friends and relatives were invited to come to pick all they wanted - big dishpans full. There were cherry trees that gave us more than we could use for pies and "sauce." For winter suppers we served canned cherries or other fruits in individual dishes as part of the dessert. We called such fruits "sauce." Without our being aware we were supplied with at least some vitamins, although no one knew that word in those days.

In the front yard was a single low growing, old apple tree. Its sturdy branches were positioned just right for climbing and sitting. One branch provided a backrest while I sat on the lower one. I spent many hours sitting in that tree reading a book.

I developed an attachment for this home, with its house with its very nice rooms. I also have memories of the days when we helped pick up potatoes on late autumn afternoons after we came home from school. Every farmer grew lots of potatoes to provide a basic food for the winter. Working in the chilly air made the evening meal and the warm home seem especially pleasant.

Then there were the days when I was sent into the field of peas to "head the thistles." I was big enough to swing a corn-knife. Canada thistles grew faster and taller than the peas. They were usually in compact patches in the field and easy to see. If they were allowed to stay until the peas were harvested their buds would roll out of the viner with the green peas. If there were many of the thistle "heads" in the boxes of peas when they reached the factory the farmer was paid a lower price for his crop. The price was measured according to the tenderness of the peas. One year, I remember "heading" the thistles in a forty-acre field three times before the peas were ready for cutting. I was content to do this job. I liked being by myself. I felt useful. I was helping to pay off the mortgage!

One day when I was eleven years old my worthy motives ran away. Dad asked me to head thistles in the forty acre field of oats. Cutting off the heads would reduce the number of weeds produced the next year. The thistles were widely scattered in the taller oats so that it was difficult to find them. And it was even more difficult to detect that I had cut any. It was a frustrating battle. I gave up and walked back to the house. My mother was disappointed that I had not completed the work. She recounted my behavior to friends and relatives saying, "She cried."

Another special assignment was to watch our small flock of sheep along the roadside in late spring and in summer. There was pasture for the sheep, but Dad liked a neat roadside. Sheep graze well but they had to be kept from wandering beyond our property. I was to watch them for an hour or two, often in the evening. It was another fine time to observe the skies, the plants, the birds and the whole world around me. A few years we had a mean ram. I was afraid of him. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Each day I hoped he would just eat grass and not pay any attention to me. But before long he seemed to feel he had to show he was the boss. When he lowered his head and came running toward me I hurried to climb a fence post and stayed there until I had to round up a straying sheep. Sometimes Dad had to come to get the sheep and me when it was time to put them back in their lot.

During the eight years we lived on this farm Dad had an opportunity to sell one-hundred twenty acres that lay across the road to Emil Mielke. That left us with only one hundred which Dad thought he could farm with less hired help, since Sheldon was growing up. But he found that it was difficult for one man to manage that much. Nowadays, people go to see the newest shopping mall in our city, or take a ride in the park, or make a trip to find interesting rocks. Dad went to look at farms that he had heard were for sale with much the same spirit.

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Copyright 1991, 2004 by Zona S. Justiss. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, text and photos on this page are property of the author and may not be reproduced, posted, distributed, or used for any commercial purpose without prior permission.