Historically Speaking: Memories of rural life
Attics in houses and barns with haylofts bring back many memories, as they were both playgrounds with magic and make-believe.
After hay was cut and dried, it had to be stored for the winter in the “upstairs” of the barn. This was quite hard work, as we used a pitch fork to lift the hay up into the big, wide double doors. We had a sturdy set of steep steps inside the barn going to the hay-loft area. I had the easier job of moving the forked hay into the back of the loft to make room as more forkfuls were hoisted into the loft. It was a dusty, dirty job, but I enjoyed the game of trying to keep up as the loft filled with fresh, sweet-smelling hay.
Haying on the small farm was a hard seasonal job. We did not have horses, so the wheelbarrow, wooden rakes and pitch fork were the tools we used. Raking the hay into stacks was tiresome. Many times we would lose a tooth of the rake, and we’d have our father whittle another tooth quickly as we tried to beat the rainstorm that was coming fast. We had only two or three cows, plus one calf, but even so, we had to be sure that we had enough hay for the winter months. Haying took up a good part of the summer, but what a good feeling when we were through and the barn was filled with hay for the cows!
Farmers on large farms today have machines to gather the hay into heavy rectangular bales in a short time-but these neat domino-stacked bales leave no room for children to jump in, crawl through and explore.
When all the hay was in the hay-mow, the big doors were shut, and the cat would go up and down the wooden ladder on the wall. She usually had a litter of kittens up in the loft, and when their eyes opened, they would come down and live in the lower part of the barn-and help keep the mice under control.
Then there were the mysterious attics in the houses. Before we had bedrooms built upstairs, we had an interesting attic. There was an area for a playhouse for my dolls, with only a solitary window on each end of this large room. There were old trunks filled with interesting things, especially old clothes that could be used for “dressing up” and playing house. I had to do a lot of make-believe since I did not have a sister to play with. But I played for hours by myself during daylight, playing either “school” with my dolls or “house.” In the winter it was too cold in the attic, but it was a great area to play in when the outside work was done in the afternoon or early summer evening daylight hours.
Later on, after I left home to go to school in town, two nice bedrooms were made in the former attic area, and when I had an opportunity to go home for the weekend, that was where I slept. My brother had the other bedroom until he left home in the early ’30s to join the CCCs.
Electricity came later; in the late ’30s we had a line from Hwy. 47 across the Wisconsin River to our farm. By that time I was already away enjoying the luxuries and conveniences of city life. But I believe that my happy early years, although there was a lot of hard work, were the happiest and most carefree for me. The transition from farm life to the comforts of the city was easy, although I missed the outside activities, and work, on the farm.
Rural life has its advantages, especially today when the lifestyle in the country is as convenient as in the city. And homes in the country have the advantage of more space, wooded areas and lakes and rivers, yet with every modern convenience-maybe even more than city folk.
My memories are of rural life, but no matter where you live or have lived, it is our memories and early years that help us in later life. Hard work, lots of fun as children, and a good family life are important to shape the adult that we all become. Happy memories!