Large handkerchiefs and a two-gallon crockery jug were indispensable, and the cistern certainly satisfied while shocking grain, according to Anita Lee (Hartman) Palmquist while describing her childhood on a Houston County farm in Pleasant Valley near Hokah during the late 1920s and early ‘30s.
All youngsters were expected to handle age-appropriate farm work – either alone or alongside the adults. Before one was old enough to milk cows by hand, a child was old enough to feed calves, water the chickens or collect eggs. Before old enough to drive a team of horses, the child could lead one horse on the hay rope, the one-horse cultivator or the swill barrel on the stone boat (make-shift, horse-pulled sled).
Most distasteful for young Anita was fetching the work horses from the night pasture. “The wet grass was cold on my bare feet. The horses didn’t want to go to work anymore than I did. They plunged and snorted and tried to run past the gate to the lane. I was thankful when they were in the barnyard and Dad came to help put them into the barn.”
Much of the year, there was work both before school and after school. In summer, it was a full day on the farm, rising at 6 a.m. After the school year ended in the spring, the corn had been planted and the cornfield weeds needed attention. The first project for the four Hartman daughters was hoeing all the corn while their dad or oldest sibling would battle the weeds on a riding cultivator pulled by two horses. The weeds that survived the cultivator were attacked by children with hoes. Sometimes, a hired man might help; sometimes, cornfields had to be cultivated and hoed two, three or even four times.
By the time the corn was too tall to hoe or cultivate, the first crop of hay might already have been mowed and raked and it was time to begin cutting the second crop of hay or cutting small grains (oats, wheat, barley) to be shocked. Potatoes and sweet corn were cultivated as well. Unless it rained, it was a six-day workweek.
“When you shocked, you walked all day, stooping to pick up bundles (of grain) as you went and walking to pick up more to complete each shock,” recalled Anita. They were on foot after their father, four horses and a machine called a binder cut grain and gathered it into bundles and tied them with twine. “Eight bundles were set into a shock and capped with another to help shed the rain. “
It was important to complete the shocking before heading to the house each evening. If a bundle was left in the field until overnight, there might be a rattlesnake beneath it in the morning. Later, pitchforks (rather than hands) were used to pick up bundles after the shocks were disassembled for threshing,
“It was usually hot and everyone consumed great quantities of water. Someone always had to keep track of the water jug. This was usually a two-gallon crockery jug – a community jug shared by all.” There were no ice cubes for the drinking water. “When we worked on the ridge, we often fastened a rope to the jug and hung it down into the cistern water to keep it cool.”
Everyone in the field carried a large handkerchief. Their dad had red handkerchiefs, but the children made do with large squares torn from old sheets or pillowcases. “These were also our salvation when the family contracted the many colds we had. We had no facial tissues. For school, we carried regular handkerchiefs. Usually, the last question mother asked before we left for school, ‘Do you have your handkerchief?’ During cold season, there may have been ninety handkerchiefs to iron.”
Sometime in August, when the field work slowed down, barn walls were whitewashed and the floor “soaked, scraped and scrubbed.” The milk house and machine shed were cleaned. Hill roads, fences and buildings were repaired, and roofs were shingled plus painting, gardening, canning and general housework. “Someone always had to turn the grindstone while Dad sharpened axes, scythes and corn knives. There were harnesses to oil. It never seemed to end.”
These remembrances came from a book by Anita Lee Palmquist – “My Story: Memories and Writings.”