My father had been caretaker for 6,000 acres in Lyon County near my Pa, his father-in-law, owned by a Mr. Helfrich in Evansville, a friend of his father. As caretaker, he rented the 800 acres of farmland to various farmers and supervised the balance of woodland. All his life he had wanted those 800 acres and, after working for the state for several years, he was able to buy the farmland. It had an adequate barn and tobacco barn and a falling down old house. During the years when he was able to farm, he researched every aspect of farming to learn the latest methods. Daddy always believed if you wanted to learn to do something, there was a book that would tell you how. In other words, he farmed by the book. He built the latest farrowing houses for the Duroc hogs he raised. He used electric fences, built the fanciest gates which could be opened from horseback by just using your foot to open and close those fine gates. He had the finest mules, the finest boar hogs and sows. Though we couldn’t get electricity from the REA since we lived too far from other houses, we had a kerosene refrigerator, gasoline operated Delco plant, kerosene cooking stove for summer and Mama even had a kerosene iron which blew up and ended its use. She even had a gasoline washing machine which was a great blessing.
Now, Daddy knew very little about farming in general. He had to buy products that my grandfather had produced for years and years of farming. Daddy had a fine garden, raised great watermelons and cantaloupes and that’s about the extent of his produce. He did sometimes have a cow. He hated cows and sold Mama’s cow a few times and had to go buy her another each time. Mama raised chickens but he made pets of them and hated to see her kill a chicken.
We did have fine vegetable gardens. He spent the winter months going through seed catalogs looking for the best of every vegetable. I remember when he would have at least four or five kinds of tomatoes, several kinds of green peppers, several kinds of cantaloupes, watermelons and every other vegetable. He raised so many vegetables that he couldn’t give them away.
As for crops, he grew much corn and tobacco. He had pasture for the one cow and his mules and two horses. That is about the extent of his farming.
My grandfather, who was my Pa, on the other hand, had never worked at anything else but farming. He had little respect for Daddy’s latest farming methods, the fertilizer and fine seeds. He farmed as his father did and his father before him and so on. Pa, however, was really diversified. He and my grandmother were almost totally self sufficient.
Ma used seeds which she had saved from the best of her tomatoes, pumpkins and many other things. She ordered very few seeds. Pa grew sorghum for molasses. He grew peanuts and potatoes and sweet potatoes to put up in the attic for use all year. He grew lots of popcorn to be stored in the old attic with many other crops. He grew green beans which he planted by his corn in the creek bottom farm so that the green beans didn’t need to be staked. He grew wheat to take to the local mill for flour that he would store at the mill to be picked up as they needed it. He also took corn to the mill for meal. He had a grinder for grinding corn for the little chickens. Pa gathered walnuts and hickory nuts and hazel nuts.
Pa grew lots of cabbage for making kraut. I have seen Ma cut cabbage for the kraut that she made in a big crock. I remember that she put a plate on top of the cabbage with a rock on top to hold the kraut down. That huge crock full of kraut would last all winter and spring. It sat on the back porch because of course it didn’t freeze.
Pa had grape vines across Ma’s kitchen garden and from them, she made jellies and jam and he made some great wine. He also made “home brew”, probably a necessity from prohibition days. He even had a little bottling plant.
I was always impressed with Pa’s ability to patch and resole his work shoes. He had an iron “last” and little hammer and small tacks plus a curved needle and soft leather for the patches on top. Pa could cane chairs and he knew how to split the canes for that. He had a big grinder for sharpening axes, hoes and the like. Oh, and he made baskets. Ma had baskets for most chores but those baskets were utilitarian. You would see them in the stable or on the back porch but not in the house. Those baskets lasted a lifetime.
Though Pa would never make much money from farming, he was a wonderful provider and loved what he did with the same passion that Daddy had. If Daddy had started farming as a young man as Pa did, he would have been very successful. But the farm was his life’s dream and he accomplished that.
Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 or write to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main Street, Cadiz, KY 42211. For my book, send a check for $13.50.