Gophers and Grasshoppers

My childhood days were spent on a farm near Binford in the late 20's and the hard 30's.  Things were not easy but we grew up knowing how to work and to appreciate every little thing we got.

Because of the drought and lack of pasture, we often had to herd sheep and cattle.  It was a tiresome, tedious job and when I'd spend the hours along the roadside or on a threshed field, I'd take my little toy car along and build roads in the dry sand to drive it on.  Or I'd take a book along to read.  But we did have to keep alert lest the animals strayed too far and got into someone's field.

In haying time, 1936, I remember it getting so hot with the sun beating down that neither man nor beast could be in the fields any longer.  They had to wait until towards evening to work again.  Also we pumped water for the cattle by hand.  Our pump was on a higher area and as we'd pump, the hot, south winds would blow the sharp gravel against our legs and face.  The cattle would come running home with then- tongues hanging out for a cold drink of water which meant we had to pump all the faster to keep up with the herd's needs.

In the heat and drought, the gophers and grasshoppers were very bad.  We had to go in the fields from hole to hole and poison the gophers and used a spreader and poison bran for the grasshoppers.   If we hadn't done this, we wouldn't have had even the little crop we got, as they would have eaten it all up.  Because of the terrible heat, we would get bad storms.  I remember once it got as dark as night outside and the wind was so strong that it swayed the house so much that the hanging Alladin lamp was swaying.  My dad, who worked on the road, was caught out in it with several horses on the road-working outfit.  He managed to keep them under control through the storm and severe hailstorm.  After the storm, everyone's cattle were running all over as in the dry years there were huge amounts of Russian thistles and these blew loose, hitting the fences and breaking them down.

We, of course, had no refrigerators, so we'd drink warm milk and spread "runny" butter.  When we needed to churn butter, my mother hung the pall of cream in the well to cool.  Often it wasn't cool enough so we'd churn hours, it seemed like, to get butter.  What a wonderful sound to finally hear the butter lapping inside the old wooden churn.  When we wanted jello set or cream whipped, we either had to cool it in the well or set it in a cold bowl of water.  We, of course, had no lee cubes, but the water from our well was good and very cold.

Money was very scarce but I do remember getting a pretty good size package of candy for five cents.  We'd save and save the few pennies we would get and once in a very great while buy an ice cream cone or a drum stick for five or ten cents.  We'd make it last and last and really enjoy each lick.  Once in a very great while we'd have sugar to make fudge and what a grand treat! I remember really embarrassing everyone when my grandmother had so lovingly made me a birthday cake and I said, "Grandma didn't even frost the cake"' There wasn't enough sugar to frost the whole cake, but the top was nicely done and being a little girl, I couldn't see the top of the cake, as it sat on the table.

We had some good laughs and some good scares over our animals.  We had mad roosters that chased us kids, and mad sheep bucks that more than once kept us from our destinations around the farm for sometimes a long while.

My sister and I spent much time in the summers in our play area in the trees making mud pies.  We baked everything from pies to bread.  The sun was a good oven! We'd play farm and use spoons to plow our fields.  As a pastime of fun and exercise, we rolled old tires around the yard, running after them to keep them balanced.  Also we drowned gophers out of the holes.  I wonder how many gallons of water we carried.  When my brother got big enough to play, my sister and I had to be his horses pulling him around in a big wagon my dad made for us.  (He did have to play dolls a lot, too).  I'll never forget when we finally got enough money from some lambs we had to buy a bicycle.  What fun! Wish I could remember what we paid for it.  By the wav it still can be used after being used by seven of us plus others.

In the wintertime we slid down a big hill by our home on a big sled my dad made for us.  We made tunnels in the snow banks.  We spent a lot of time playing in the haymow.  We'd slide on lee ponds on our overshoes as we had no skates and more than once saw stars when I fell hitting my head.

I shocked a lot of grains and corn, and cultivated corn with a team of horses as well as helped in haying.  We kids really enjoyed threshing time, to see the big rigs come in, the actual threshing and all the excitement.  But we didn't have to do all the baking of breads, pies, cakes, cookies and everything for ten hungry men that our mother had to do.  We did help but didn't have the responsibility.  She also did the milking and separating.  There was no baking ahead of time and freezing either.  Sometimes we'd get a rainy spell and had people around for an extra long time.

Two jobs I really disliked were chopping and carrying in wood and washing the cream separator.  I was always afraid of fires, too, as we did have some chimney fires from burning wood.

I remember the beautiful springs we had: warm air, water running, rabbits scampering by as we'd ride in the wagon pulled by two horses.  But I also remember feeling sorry for the horses in the cold winter when dad would get us in a cab from school and the poor horses pulling it had big icicles hanging down from their mouths and noses.

When I went to high school, I had one good dress a year.  We usually wore skirts, blouses and sweaters that were interchangeable, so we seemingly had more outfits.  Many evenings and every Saturday we washed the few outfits we had.  When we bought our class rings in 1943, we paid $8.25 for the girls and $9.70 for the boys.  I attended summer school at the college in Valley City for eight weeks in the summer of 1944 and then I could teach in a rural school.  My wages were $125 a month, and I did the janitor work.  We baked potatoes in the ashes of the old potbelly stove, and they were delicious.  As a child in school we did the same.  We'd bring gravy and potatoes in syrup cans and set them on top of the stove to heat.  If the teacher forgot to loosen the covers, they would pop as the contents heated, often hitting the ceilings.  At night it would get so cold the ink froze in the ink bottles (we didn't have ball point pens then) and the water in the coolers would freeze - one way to have ice water in those days.

Marian Miller Thompson

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 102

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