In reading Dave Peyton’s 1988 column about Grandma Peyton’s barn and Pet the cow, my mind floated back 80 years to 1940, a time when my family lived on a farm, had a barn and a cow named Pet.
I was 6 years old and had just finished the first grade when my dad decided to move our small family to a farm 5 miles from town where Dad worked in a nearby factory.
I’m sure his decision was based on the fact that the Great Depression’s effects were still present at that time and the struggle to find employment and feed their children was a grim reality for every young family. Many viewed the family farm as a safer place to be during these times of hardship.
I am now amazed at how vivid my memory is of those days on the farm. While my dad continued to drive each day to his job in town, the house, barn, chicken coops, pig sty, animals and huge garden were consigned to the care of my mother, my 8-year-old brother and me. My 4-year-old sister was too young to be considered in the division of labor.
Our first animal acquisition was, indeed, a cow named Pet who soon delivered a calf that I named Sylvia. Pet was soon followed by Red and Ginger, each of whom needed to be milked twice each day. The chicken house was filled with hens that produced eggs that had to be gathered each day and small chicks that soon grew to dinner size. Several hogs filled the pig sty, rolled in the dirt and produced piglets that grew to market size and disappeared in a truck that went somewhere. During the summer, the huge garden also grew weeds that had to be pulled and the vegetables harvested and prepared for future consumption. Child labor laws did not exist in my world at that time as my brother and I were assigned age-appropriate tasks that we dared not neglect.
Needless to say, our days back then started very early as my dad had to milk the cows before he drove to his job in town. My job was to run out to the hen house and gather the eggs, and my brother went with dad to feed the pigs and cows and clean the cow stalls. When it was time to go to school we picked up our lunch pails and ran down the lane to jump on the big yellow school bus that delivered us to our new school.
My days on the farm ended soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. By 1943 gas rationing made it impossible for my dad to drive to work each day. When we moved, it was probably one of the happiest days of my young life. While life on the farm was not all hard work, there were times to play and have fun, but moving back to town meant city parks, the swimming pool, the playground and friends just down the street.
What I know now and appreciate is what I learned during those three years on the farm. I learned about the importance of hard work and being responsible and dependable, how to properly care for animals, how to garden and so many tasks too numerous to list. But most of all I learned about the importance of family as a team and living in a community where folks care about each other and their welfare.