A Christmas at Gma Spencers - A-M Systems

Business Development - Consulting / Products / Services - since 1986
A-M Systems
Go to content

A Christmas at Gma Spencers

Introduction—by eddie barnett
We may have spent several Christmas’ at Spencer Farm – I just simply do not recall. In my personal portion of this publication, my primary memories will focus on a specific Christmas trip to Grandma and Grandpa Spencer. It was a memorable trip for me, and I still have a snap-shot memory of that time – it is but a bleep in time.
My story being described herein was probably a Christmas around 1946 or maybe a year or two later. The reason this was memorable was for a couple of reasons – both at the beginning of the excursion and at the conclusion of the event… and both vivid memories have to do with the cars and roads of that period.
We may have had other Christmas visits, but if so, then they all blend into one story. I seriously doubt that we spent more than a few Christmas’ at Grandmas because it was so difficult to schedule anyone to do the huge number of chores that we had during that period of time.
There were a couple of reasons for a visit to Grandma Spencer’s home at this time of year, and  they were rather basic reasons;
1.) we kids were on Christmas break from school, and
 2.) it was the least time of year for farm activity… primarily just livestock chores…, and no field cropping.
Okay, actually, there was another BIG reason for a visit this time of year…
So, I will focus on one memorable Christmas trip, although that trip could have been replicated a few times – but not many, I’m sure. Summer trips were difficult because of chores, field work, putting up hay, threshing oats, etc., and if we did have summer visits, then they were probably no longer than a day – maybe two at the most.
A few…
Spencer Family Memories from the 1940s
A 40s Christmas at Grandmas
- by Eddie Barnett
Prep’ing for the trip
In my kid days, “… children were to be seen and not heard….” – meaning the kids were generally not a part of family conversations, and were certainly not a part of family decision making. Actually this was a universal action by parents of the day… a sign of the times and true of most all families, as far as I know.
We generally got our instructions after the fact - in other words, after decisions were made we would then be instructed as to what was to be expected of each of we kids – individually, as well as a unit (a gaggle of kids – gaggle definition: a disorderly or noisy group of people… yep!.. good description!). So a Christmas trip to Grandmas place was not a guaranteed annual event, except for a few years, perhaps in the mid to late 1940s... and maybe into the 1950s.
One of our major concerns while we would be gone was heating the house so that the house plumbing would not freeze and burst the plumbing water pipes… Oh wait!.. we had no in-house plumbing, so there were no water pipes to freeze! So we never worried about keeping heat in the house. What that meant was that upon our return, the house would be colder than “a witch’s tit!” (Dad’s description - not mine!) Of course if there were things that we did not want to freeze, then we would move those items to the storm/root cellar – … never got below freezing in the cellar. We called the root cellar – “The Cave”.
Chore time
Actually the event triggered a series of pre-trip activities. It was paramount that we had someone to do the chores in our absence – and believe me, that was not an easy task because we had LOTS of chores – as most farm families of the day did. Without question, livestock chores were the most likely reason why few folks of the day did much traveling of any kind – at least for any extended period of time… unless they had a “hired man”… and several farmers did – have hired men.
We had egg-laying hens, fat hogs, sows with pigs, cattle, and sheep - but of all the chores that had the most affect on locating a sucker (oops!.. shouldn’t say that), was milking cows. NO ONE liked to milk cows, and at that time we probably were milking 10 to 15 cows! And the fact is, for this story, I do not recall who we got to do our chores and milk the cows, but I do have a pretty good guess, and that would probably have been Uncle Harold Petry. Uncle Harold was married to Dad’s older sister, Mary. She was a saint – but that is another story (mom always considered her as her older sister and as close, or closer to her than any sister she had). So was Uncle Harold - a saint of a man. They lived a few miles to the north of our farm in that period of time, and since Dad traded a lot of work with the Petrys’, it is most certain that Uncle Harold was the chore person. And besides that, he had a brother, Virdon, and a son, Rex, that would no doubt have helped him with the task of doing our chores. Of course he would have to have come to our farm at least a couple of times prior to our departure in order to know what chores to do, and go through them with us a time or two.
Part of the choring problem was what to do with the commodities that resulted from the chore activities – what about the eggs?.. what to do with the cream? … milk would most likely have been fed to the hogs, and indeed the entire milking operation may have been fed to the hogs. If the chore person also had such commodities in their farming operation, then it may have been simply a matter of blending of the two sets of commodities.
Extended trips of that period had to be planned carefully. Cars of the day were not noted to be significantly reliable as they are today – 50,000 miles and the car was ready for salvage. Today a car with 300,000 miles, or more, on the odometer may still be going strong for several more years. Yes – cars have come a long way in 75 years. The fact is, in the 1940s, traveling to anywhere other than to our business town (Tarkio in our case), was about as far as we got to travel. So a trip to Grandma/Grandpa Spencers’ was… well – it was a TRIP!
By far the largest obstacle to any traveling in that period of time was two fold; 1.) the aforementioned ‘who will do our chores’, and 2.) is our travel means ready - in our case I seem to recall it was a 1935 Ford. (pic) My recollection is that we had a 1939 Plymouth just prior to that time, but for reasons that I now know not, my dad sold or traded it for this 1935 Ford – I just remember at the time of thinking that we were going backwards on vehicles! But the guess now would be that the Plymouth had some serious problem and this was dad’s decision to keep our family with reliable transportation. Besides, I do recall Dad saying that Fords were better mudders than Plymouths… mudders! Not “mothers”… mudder definition: vehicles that are good on mud roads!
Mechanical road graders were not common in those days. Much of the road maintenance would have been taken care of by residence living along said road. There would not have been any “crowning” of the roadway (road crown: high point in the center of the road that allows for water drainage). And often times as horse drawn graders leveled the road (as can best be leveled by such an antiquated piece of machinery), they would leave a small dirt dam along side the road. This little dam tended to hold the rain water in the roadway instead of allowing the rain water to drain to the ditch. This was a perfect storm for pooling water and deep ruts by those that did traverse the road. Often times there seemed to be no bottom to the roadway.
In fact, there weren’t always even drainage ditches along side of the road during that period of time since mechanical graders and such earth moving machines were certainly not common – at least in rural Northwest Missouri in that period of time. Also the roads most often were simply cut through the hills and often times left steep banks along side of the roadway. Along with the steep banks, small trees and brush tended to grow on the road banks and all of these factors provided a perfect contribution for drifting snow in, and near, the roadway in the winter time.  
The day arrives when we leave…
We still could not do our chores much earlier than normal since we had no electricity to light the barn or the out buildings. But of course there was the childish excitement of a motor trip!... plus we would not have to do chores… for a week!.. forgetting for the moment that we would eventually return home and get back to somewhat “semi-abnormal”… but until then… we intended to enjoy the journey! And I think that we did.
Mom would always have some type of sandwiches and/or crackers for the trip so as to not have to stop along the way… or more likely, we would not have to spend any money to feed this young, ravenous family! Any stoppage would have cost us trip time, as well as the aforementioned financial consideration of having to buy food on the journey!.. and perhaps this would have been the primary reason.
As I say, if it were a journey of more than a five mile trip to Tarkio in those days it would have been considered “a trip” It was 25 miles (to Shenandoah IA), and 30 miles or so to Maryville MO. Those were trips! It was maybe over 75 miles to Grandpa Spencer’s place… WOW! Today that would be considered “commuting distance”. But the roads then were windy and narrow and even though there was no speed limit, my guess now is that our average speed would not have been more than 30 or 40 MPH in our ’35 Ford. And since most of our Gparent trips were at Christmas time, there was also the road conditions thing. I just mentioned the time of year of most of our visits were generally at Christmas time because that was when we would be on Christmas Break at Pleasant Mound School.
We lived on a dirt road that was two and a half mile from Highway 4 blacktop (today that highway has been renamed as Missouri Highway 136), so frozen roads at that time of year made it much easier to reach the blacktop highway. Snow and drifting snow were another thing – more on that later.
… thru Burlington Junction to U.S. Highway 71, then on to Maryville… then take a left on (now) Missouri Highway 46 (maybe a blacktop at the time)... to Grant City and then to Allendale, which was just a few miles north of  Gparent’s farm and homestead. In normal trips, we would have arrived at Gparents by early to mid afternoon.
About a half mile or so (or more) to the east of Allendale, the highway curved towards the northeast and heads towards Hatfield. At that curve, the road that went straight ahead was dirt, and then about a quarter mile or so (or more) on that road, there was another dirt road that went straight south. I recall that our grandparents lived maybe a mile or two (or more) south of that junction.
Memory of Christmas Time Trip to Grandma…
One Christmas trip in particular is burned into memory – at least the event, if not all of the details. Most of the time in Northern Missouri, the winter days may be warm and mild, but the nights would be well below freezing and any thawing of the roads during the day would then be returned to frozen roads in evening and night. But on this memorable occasion that just never happened. The temperature stayed mild and the dirt roads of the day did not freeze… yeah! And grandparents lived on a lightly traveled dirt road… maybe a couple of miles or so from the blacktop highway that passed through Allendale and on towards Hatfield.
Roads in that part of the country, indeed most of the Midwest in the early 1940s, were dirt. Roads were narrow and seldom had drainage ditches. Roads would simple go up and over a hill, but occasionally there would be those hills that were so sharp that road crews would try to cut a road way through the hill. When they did, they left sharp banks on each side of the roadway, and in the early days, there were no drainage ditches that would have been cut along side the roadway. As a result, rainwater had no place to go but to settle in the road, between the hills. Such was the road that Grandparents lived on.
I do not recall the exact time of day, but no doubt it would be well into the afternoon period when we arrived in Allendale for our final part of our journey to Gparents home… and that dirt road from Allendale to Gparents was NOT frozen, but rather it was still muddy. We probably stopped in Allendale and Mom would have called Gparents for a road update. As my memory now serves, the decision must have been made for Gpa to come get us with his horse team and wagon.
Even though the distance was probably only a mile or two, it seemed to take forever for grandpa to arrive. Gpa would have had to go to his barn, harness up his team, hook up to the wagon, and then head towards Allendale. I seem to recall that it was well after dark by this time and horses do not have head lights, at least Gpa’s team had no headlights. Any light would probably have come from Gpa’s kerosene lantern.
Of course eventually he did get there to get us, and now the part that is burned into my memory is of hunkering down in that wagon, and warm as toast under that heavy comforter (blanket) that was nearly always a part of any travel in those days. Shuffling along in the wagon with the grand smell of night air and unmistakable smell of working draft horses – can’t ever forget than wonderful smell. All of this in total darkness, and on a 1940s mud road! We were never afraid with Gpa and the folks as part of the entourage, but as a wee young inquisitive lad at the time, I had to wonder how that grand team of horses could conquer that rut filled, mud road in total darkness.
As it turns out, I would later learn that horses with those big bulging eyes have excellent night vision, and on a night lit by a partial moon or even by bright stars alone, normally sighted horses can see as well as a person can in  full daylight. In moonlight, horses can see as well as humans do in the sunlight. Who knew?!.. Well.. now I know.
I have no recollection of how the car eventually got to Gparents, but most likely Gpa and Dad rode a horse back to the car the next morning and then Dad would have driven the car to Gparents on the frozen road. This would not be the last event associated with Gpa’s grand team of horses, nor the last encounter with mud road conditions!
Gparents Homestead
“ A Little House on the Hill” – might be the simplest description of Gparents farmstead. The road ran along the east side of Gparents farm, with a fence gate at the bottom of the hill that was the entry to the farmstead. There was a gate that was no doubt closed at times since the area where the house and buildings stood also served as a lot pasture for most livestock at times no doubt.
I can’t guess as to the incline angle of the hill on which the house stood, but it may best be described as “sharp rise”. Maybe that is an old Missouri term – I’m not sure, but at any rate, it truly was a little house on the hill. One dirt lane to the right lead up the hill and one dirt lane to the left lead down the hill. On snowy and icey days, there no doubt were times when a car would have to have been parked at the bottom of the hill simply because it would have been unlikely to have been able to make the grade under those icey, wintry conditions.
Near that entry point from the road was a windmill that ran water into a large livestock watering tank that served all the livestock – hogs, cows, sheep and horses… although I do not have a lot of memories of the hogs and sheep. I further seemed to recall that that well also served as the primary source of water for the house and family. One of my most vivid memories is of hauling water for the house from that well. In the winter time, Gpa would hook his team on to a large sled and haul water to the house from that windmill. That sled had a couple of huge open top barrels that served as vessels for transporting water from windmill/well to house. They would have been filled a bucket at a time, so it would have taken a little while just to fill those wooden water barrels. NOTE: I’m not really sure that those water barrels went to the house… not sure the destination.
Maybe most memorable?… Grandma’s breakfasts!
Foremost to this classic breakfast would have been a huge crock bowl of sausage gravy and fresh biscuits – straight out of the wood burning cook stove oven. Of course everything was homemade – no one bought such food stuffs in that period of time. A fifty pound cloth bag of flour was the primary stock ingredient for families of the day. Of course milk was always available when you had milk cows.
But there it was!.. a crock of sausage gravy and a stack of fresh biscuits. At this time of year, the meat on the table would have also been a pile of “sow-belly” (uncured bacon), or perhaps some pork sausage – I just don’t recall if Grandpa had many hogs. For dinner or supper, if it were in the summer time, it could have been catfish for the meal. Anyway, any/all of those meals were a country boy’s delight! The meat for those meals could also have been rabbit or squirrel – thanks to Uncle Eddie – he was an avid hunter. More on him later. The conclusion on mealtime story is that while at Grandma’s home no one ever went hungry at breakfast time, or any other meal time, for that matter.
Grandparent Spencer’s House
Older homes of that period where built with crawl spaces, and without basements. That made for very cold floors when the wind would blow under the house. Houses were often supported slightly above the ground-level on some type of brick or concrete pilings that were not always the most reliable support. There were no building codes, so such homes of the day would often have an insufficient foundation that would heave seasonally with frost.
My guess is that this little home on the hill was no more than 900 to 1000 square feet. That makes each room about 15 x 15 more/less – maybe a little bigger, but couldn’t have been by much larger. The main entry door was on the west side of the house and the entry was into the kitchen. In the kitchen was a large wood burning cook stove that took up a significant portion of the kitchen, but add a rather sizeable dining table in the southeast part of the kitchen and you have consumed a significant portion of the kitchen. I never gave it much thought at the time, but in later years, I would wonder – “how in the world did that family of nine manage at mealtime in that kitchen”!
Sidebar – kitchen description: I cannot describe specific details of Grandma’s kitchen, but I do recall our own kitchen, and kitchens of the day most likely would have been similar. Noting again that most rural homes of this period in Northern Missouri had no electricity, nor any indoor plumbing. So – there may have been an icebox in the kitchen, but certainly no refrigerator. Likewise, since there was no electricity, there would not have been ceiling lights… the lighting came from a kerosene lamp. In doing some research, I have since discovered that such lamps can produce the equivalent of a 10 watt light bulb. 10 WATT!.. Picture lighting a room with a 10 watt light bulb. I simply cannot recall, the method of lighting at grandma’s house, but she may also have had an Aladdin lamp, and those were 5 to 6 times brighter than the kerosene lamp.
Anyway, in continuing home description - Immediately to the right of the kitchen was a doorway into a bedroom. From the kitchen and straight ahead was a doorway into the northeast room, which was the living room. On the south wall of this room was the primary source of heat for the house – a large wood or coal burning heating stove. In those days, and at that time of year, that heating stove would most likely have been burning wood – so picture some firewood piled alongside… a davenport set along the north wall and Grandpa’s lounge chair was on the east wall… and maybe a large old battery powered radio?.. not sure. This was a living room that does not give much room for living – but they did. The extreme southeast room of the house was another bedroom. The upstairs as… – Oops! No, there was no upstairs! – that was it.. that was the house!
Co-Habitating – a family of Saints
Picture in your mind raising a family with 6 girls..., 6 young ladies, in 2 bedroom house today, and  folks would say that it is not possible. Well, it was possible in the 1910s and 1920s, and they did, and that is before we add a younger member to the family – and a boy no less! I know!.. you just can’t do that – but they did, and by all of the stories that I ever heard, it was a harmonious set of young ladies. Oh I am sure there were moments of frustration and confrontations, but if there were, such memories never registered very high on any of those young ladies’ memories – at least it never was conveyed by my mother as to ever having any serious situations lasting more than perhaps a few minutes… it would have been but a bleep of time.
I knew them all in the later years of their lives and I can certainly picture a homogeneous set of young ladies in spirit and in attitude during those formidable years. Guess what!.. the matriarch of that family should probably get the bulk of the credit for such dispositions of those young ladies in such an environment, but don’t forget their pappy!.. he had to have had the patience and fortitude of a saint... never a discouraging word, and with an infectious smile – at least in his younger years. And my recollection of those parents (our grandparents) would certainly have fit those profiles as described. A common saying at the time would have described this family as: “Salt of the earth”. They were!
Footnote: This phrase comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus addresses the people by saying, “You are the salt of the earth. “ In this New Testament passage, Jesus means that the common people he is addressing are worthy and virtuous.
Personal Relief
Now I continuing by painting an image in your head of a small house that was inhabited by 6 young females, along with a brother and parents, I ask the question: “… where in the world did they go to the bathroom?” Folks!.. that question will not be answered by me in this publication – I simple have no recollection of that circumstance ever being discussed. I do know how boys answered “the call” of nature, but for girls? - I can only imagine!.. as you will now have to do. Although I will add this … just picture a 5 gallon bucket.
I do seem to recall that the aforementioned “outhouse” set off to the southwest of the house. For those that may have never experienced such a facility, they were generally stocked with Sear-Roebuck Catalogs – and sometimes corncobs… yeah!.. picture that on your tender little underside!.. those cobs did not flush very well… Ooops!.. of course there was no flush, but the facility did have to be re-located every few years – I’m sure that you can image the reason for such a move.
As mentioned previously, Grandpa had to have been a saint with an unshakeable attitude and spirit to first have to live with 7 females, and then in later years to have to tolerate those same loving girls’ ornery, noisy and snooping kids!.. but he did. He was quiet and not very talkative – I guess by living with 7 females, there may not have been many opportunities to talk. (just kidding ladies) Nor was he very jovial, but that may have been for the same reason as just described as why he was not a conversationalist (sorry again ladies).
In his twilight years, he still had a “full-head-of-hair” that even in those later years still had very little gray. He rarely smiled - I just do not recall that he was a “smiling, hugging, showing-love” kind of grandpa (but many grandparents of that period were that way). I’m not sure that he shaved very often and routinely had a bristly black beard. But he was ruggedly handsome, and on rare occasion he could produce a devilish little smile that only added to just who he was, and how it reflected his inner personality. Kids today would probably have labeled him as – “cool”.
He had the patience of a saint if you wanted to ride on the water sled while hauling water to the top of the hill. Actually, we probably all have great memories of these grandparents that could fill another book… maybe more stories later!
Grandpa Spencer’s Barn
I do not EVER remember being in Gpa’s barn… really can’t say why…. Even if we had wanted to, I’m sure that he would have no interest in noisy grandkids messing with his barn and livestock. After all, he had daughters, and girls are not normally geared to livestock and a lot of physical work. But having just said that, I do recall that those Spencer girls did have chores and outside duties – at least that is what was conveyed to me by my mother – the elder of Spencer sisters.
I often wondered – did he have hay in his barn as we did?..and if so, then how did it get there? Did his barn have an oats bin as ours did?.. and how did the oats get there. Were there stalls for his grand team of horses as ours had?.. And were there stalls where he milked cows?... I just never knew, and just never confronted Gpa with any such trivial questions.
A Sleigh riding hill
On most visits to Grandma’s home at Christmas time there would have most likely been snow on the ground, and thus an opportunity to sleigh ride down that sharp hill, although I really only remember a couple times, when we did sleigh ride. Sleds may not have been available – I don’t recall, but I do recall that it would have been a perfect sleigh riding hill because it had a steep decline, but somewhat leveled off at the bottom of the hill and thus reduce the chances of running into the fence that surrounded the farm yard lot.
Hunting – Quail and Rabbit
Okay, the truth is that I do not recall how many Christmas’ we had at Grandmas as I have just describe, but I do know that this hunting activity, to be described herein, was THE primary reason for the trip and our week or so spent at Grandma’s home. Our dad loved to hunt quail and no more so than Uncle Eddie did. I can’t remember Uncle Eddie being very old at the time of this visit that I am describing, but I do recall that he was a seasoned hunter (and fisherman in the summers, no doubt). And boy did that part of Missouri have the source of hunting targets. There were BUNCHES of quail!.. several large Coveys of those little game birds, as I recall.
I wasn’t much interested in hunting at that time, but brother Gary was – and he couldn’t have been very old – maybe age 5 or 6 (1946 or 1947) in that memorable period of time. I seem to recall that the regular routine was to hunt rabbits at night and then sell those furry little critters the next day for ten cents each… who bought them I do not recall. At any rate, the use of those proceeds was to buy shot gun shells for the next quail hunting day.
Rabbit slaughter
Okay, it wasn’t “slaughter”, but those furry little critters would be easy targets for seasoned hunters. The rabbit hunting was done at night. The roads would be frozen after dark and that is when this motley crew would head out into the cold of the night to hunt rabbits. My recollection is that each fearless hunter would sit on the fender of the car behind a protruding headlamp, and with a 22 gauge rifle. Then while driving slowly down the road, of course with the car lights on, those silly little bunnies would hop out in front of those car headlights and trot down the road… maybe like shooting fish in a barrel??! …I guess that I cannot say that with any degree of factual knowledge since I have never shot fish in a barrel, but regardless, those little hopping bunnies would have been easy targets for those sharp shooting hunters.
In a good night there would be a lot of little bunnies that gave their lives in order for our avid hunters to sell their pelts for ten cents each in order for said hunters to buy shotgun shells for the next day’s quail hunt. I don’t think you would be allowed to do that nowadays.
I seem to recall that Uncle Eddie may have had an English Setter hunting dog, but regardless, in the early days of hunting excursions, brother Gary and I would also have performed as hunting dogs!.. tromping ditches and weed patches! But after a couple of quail hunting days, I would probably wimp out of being the bird dog, but not Brother Gary!.. he was the ditch walker and weeds stomper, in order to spook the birds out where Dad and Uncle Eddie would be ready. Both were excellent shots, and the results of the day would be a significant harvest of Quail. I can still remember the conclusion of such hunting trips, when those fearless hunters would haul their bounty into Grandma’s house and drop all them little feathered birds on the kitchen floor for Grandma and Mom to clean – and that is exactly what they did.
Ladies of the hunters were “programmed” to perform such duties in those days! That is what was expected of them and they would carry out those duties with no thought of complaining… that was just not done (“complaining” that is) by housewives and ladies of the hunters in that period of time.
In those days, since there were few ways of preserving such meat for any extended period of time, needless to say perhaps, is that while we were at Grandma’s home for Christmas, we would not go hungry and there would have been lots of Quail and gravy for just about every meal. Fine by me!.. it was great. … okay, maybe not EVERY meal.
The Visit to the Grandparents’ was over –
… time to Head for Tarkio Home
If there was excitement and enthusiasm at the beginning of our pending trip to Grandmas, then it surely would have been tempered by a depressed mood of the return home trip. Certainly a week or so later, and at the end of that visit, we would experience the polar opposite of initial enthusiastic mood for such an excursion.
As we would be preparing to leave for home, Grandpa would never said “goodbye”, but rather he would head for the barn to do chores or to do something, or just to get away from our departure. I guess he just hated goodbyes.
Since seasonal temperatures in December in Northern Missouri average 20F to 40F, we were not rushed to leave very early in the morning since the roads would still be frozen for a period of time. We almost certainly would NOT have left Grandma’s place without having breakfast – she would not have allowed that, but it would not be received with the great anticipation of the earlier breakfasts. We almost had no appetite for anything, because our memories were reminding us of the pending excursion back to our Tarkio farm. Dad had to blend the decision of departure time with the known coming of thawing  temperatures rising to the point that the frozen roads would soon, once again, become nearly impassable… he wanted to get to the highway while the road from Grandma’s place was still mostly frozen. Drivers of the day were very aware of such conditions, and were very adept at traversing such road conditions.  
Often times the return to our Tarkio Farm would have also been tempered by the road conditions. It was not uncommon to stop a few times on the return trip so as to give the road into home place a chance to set up or freeze in the early evening hours… I’m not even sure that our old Ford even had a radio anyway. So without constant weather reports as we have today, no such information was readily available to Dad… he was winging it from past knowledge and experience – “by the seat of his pants”, as the saying goes.
Almost Home!
And then came the time when we were to make the final two and a half miles from the blacktop highway to our farm home. The temperature had not dropped far enough for the road to re-freeze or “setup” completely. The top of the road was still a bit “greasey” (slimy/slick), but Dad made the decision to chain-up while we were still on a hard surface road and then we could make it home with not much trouble. (or so he hoped)
After mounting the tire chains and heading north on that dirt road, the first half mile seemed to be going as he had planned, but then we came to the low area between hills, and that is where the water often accumulated in the middle of the un-contoured dirt roadway. I’m sure that his thinking would have been to steer the car into existing ruts so as to guide the car to the opposite side and therefore not run the risk of sliding into the ditch… which would have been REALLY bad!
The strategy worked great!!.. until!!... we were almost through the water-standing ruts, and then we stalled out!.. OCRAP! Dad got out of the car to evaluate the situation, and soon determined that we had lost a tire chain on the car, and therefore the car was just spinning a chain-less tire – this was before the days of positraction (positraction means both wheels will spin together – not just one, which would have allowed the car to make it through the mud hole with one tire chain.)
By this time of day it was no longer day… it was night!.. and dark... and getting really cold. I can only imagine now what went through Dad’s head to make the decision to locate that tire chain – but he did. The entire family is tromping through the mud and trying to locate a tire chain!.. you couldn’t see anything so it was a matter of kicking along with your feet to determine if a tire chain, lost in a deep rut, could be located.
I no longer have recollection of just whose foot discovered that tire chain, but someone did – probably Dad since he had the only flashlight. That may have been the easy part, because now dad had to remount that tire chain, in the dark, and in a rut, and in the cold. Well, since we are no longer setting there in that rut, I have to assume that we made it out of the rut and did make it home that night… FINALLY!
Choring in the Dark
Locating a car tire chain in the mud and in the dark now seemed history – but the feelings of euphoria of finally getting home soon turned to negative feelings once again when we realized that we were going to have to do chores!… late at night, in the cold, and IN THE DARK! OH CRAP! Not only that but upon arrival at home, we discovered that someone had turned the thermostat down and all the plumbing pipes in the house were frozen and had broken!.. OYEAH- forgot again!.. we had no electricity, nor indoor plumbing, so there was literally nothing that could freeze and break, except the drinking water bucket that set next to the outside door – it was solid ice! And boy was that house cold!
Brother Gary and I were instructed to change into our chore clothes and head out in the dark and into the cold night. Now since we had no electricity, the changing clothes routine had to be done in some staged event since we were carrying on that project with a single, kerosene burning lamp. … taking turns to make use of the low level of lamp light. And of course those chore clothes would be as cold as the rest of the house – … those cold clothes would certainly wake you up.
Mom went about the routine of loading the heating stove with wood and getting a source of heat into the house again. Of course heating the house after being so cold for so long would take an extended period of time and the benefit of such would not be realized by the family until much later – maybe not until morning.
Then it was out into the dark to do the chores – the most serious of which was milking cows. A single lantern would show the way to the barn where the milk cows would be mooing and bawling. They would be hungry, as well as no doubt in some sort of mild pain in the udder. (Please note, we also felt pain!.. it just wasn’t in the udder!) We all had to participate in this milking exercise (even me!!.. no escaping to feed the hogs!) in order to complete this chore in a timely manner. I simply do not recall whether or not we even fed the rest of the livestock until morning, but probably did not.
Even prior to the conclusion of the milking operation, I would escape the milking duties!.. Actually I would take some of the milk to the cave house where the cream separator was located, and I would set up the cream separator and then begin the milk separating chore. Then Mom would be the next to depart the barn and bring another batch of milk to me to be separated. Dad and Gary would finish the milking operation. In later years, those cow milkers would have included Little Sister Mary (she started milking cows at about age 5 or 6).
After Mom would have delivered her buckets of milk to me to be separated, she would have then gone on into the house to prepare something for supper. Whatever it would have been, it would have to have been prepared quickly and with limited cook stove requirement. It may have only been a cold sandwich of some kind. It made little difference – there would be no complaining nor grumbling … each we would have been too exhausted to really care.
Maybe by that time the living room stove would be warm enough that each we older kids could warm a sleeping blanket at the stove that we would then wrap around us and head off to the icey cold bedroom upstairs. Mom would take the kerosene lamp and lead us upstairs and see that we got into bed and give each a good night hug and a momma kiss! Those “momma hugs” are memorable to this day.
Well.. That’s my story!
Such is the conclusion of the “Christmas Trip to Grandmas”! And as mentioned prior, I do not recall how many times we may have done this routine, because it was so darn difficult to get anyone to do our livestock chores. But for now, the recollection of that one Christmas time spent at Grandma’s place would just bring up a warm and fond memories of the peoples and the times!
And my guess now as to why it is memorable would be because of the “mudder” incidents that we encountered on this particular trip! (you do remember the description of “mudder” I trust!?.. if not, then you will have to re-read the whole darn story… just kidding!)
Thanks for the Memories!
Other stories
We rarely visited Grandparent Spencers’ in non-Christmas time. In later years, I do recall summer visits to Grandma’s place, but probably not more than a day or so, at the most – just could not be gone long in the summer. Summers were too busy with cultivating corn, threshing oats, putting up hay, and of course cutting those pesky sunflowers out of the corn field… and not to forget those darn cockleburs!.. but that is another story!
I do recall stopping in Burlington Junction on at least one summer trip when dad bought us a 5 cent, one scoop ice cream cone – we didn’t get those very often, so this would have been a real treat for the trip. There was another occasion that I recall when we stopped at a fruit and vegetable market store on Highway 71, on the north side of downtown Maryville. We may have stopped here on other occasions, but on this memorable occasion Dad bought a lug (a box or crate used for transporting fruitJ) of overly ripe bananas – we couldn’t eat them fast enough to take any advantage of any significant savings – but we were happy while they lasted – fresh fruit was a rare treat for us in that period of time. And no!.. we then determined that excessive consumption of bananas does NOT cause constipation!.. WHEW! Thank heavens!! … maybe a belly ache but not constipation!
Conclusion / The End
What you MAY now recall is that the initial heading of my story was “A 1940s Christmas at Grandmas”, and yet there was little mention throughout my portion of this publication of “Christmas”, or gifts, or Christmas trees, or Christmas decorations, or anything that we now relate to Christmas Season. Spencer Folks were not necessarily “Bible thumpers”, but they did seem to make a conscience effort to respect “the season” and the deity associated with such – and we loved it!
Well, I believe that in those days, Christmas was more of a people thing!.. a time of family gatherings and sharing memories!.. it simply was NOT a gift giving time. I don’t think anyone really cared about the commercial side of the season, as is the case nowadays – it had more to do with a seasonal attitude and a family spirit. Do you think that we will see such a universal spirit ever again? Perhaps not, and that would be sorta sad and maybe even tragic. But I guess maybe “that is another story”. Amen
2020 Copyright (c) A-M Systems
All Rights Reserved
Powered by Website X5 & Website Source

A-M Systems
204 S Broadway St - Box 459
Red Oak IA, 51566-0459

402-305-2575 cell
Back to content