Old house on the farm.
The house sits, unpainted, dilapidated and large in the middle of a neglected yard. There is no time to look after the yard. Nor are there funds available to buy the materials necessary to maintain it. We are poor – but we don’t realize it.
I have one brother when we are young who is my friend/playmate too. We have the same interests – playing like ‘wild Indians’ my mom says. My dad, always laughing, calls me ‘blonde Apache’. I carry the title proudly. Oh the freedom is exhilarating.
Surrounding the house are extremely dilapidated outbuildings, sloughs, rolling prairie and a coulee. The coulee runs through our neighbor’s property, cuts across the three mile road that leads to the one room, eight grade schoolhouse we attend. We go to school by horseback, sometimes by cart and sometimes by a cutter (a closed in sleigh). We never have a motored vehicle ride to school.
There is no hydro or running water in the house. It is drafty, with winds blowing through the cracks and poorly sealed windows. In the winter temperatures can drop to -60 degrees with the wind-chill factor.
But the frost makes the most unique, gorgeous patterns on window-panes and settles onto the nail-heads holding the dry-wall in place. The house is heated by a wood and coal stove in our huge kitchen. Kerosene lanterns flicker on the huge slate-topped table with the benches and miss-matched chairs around it. We have our baths right beside the stove, blankets over the chairs are our privacy. In the spring – new-born pigs are brought in and put into a tub beside the stove. Their delicate skin glows pink in the light. They are wonderful playmates on the cold nights we can’t go outside to play.
We often huddle around the open oven playing card-games our dad teaches us as soon as we can walk and talk. The only other heat is the small oil-burner in our living-room which is used only on special occasions.
Goose-down blankets cover our beds upstairs, where the heat is a grate covered hole in the floor. These blankets, made by our mother, keep us warm as toast on the frosty nights when coyotes howl to the moon and the snow crunches beneath my feet like broken chard’s of glass.
Our mother was a unique person, loved by all. I was the fourth of eight children she raised. I often hear her say, when I was an adult, she wanted to cry watching us as babies, when we first learned to crawl if it was winter. She says our little fingers were red and chapped, bleeding sometimes with little cracks. It is a tribute to my mother’s phenomenal abilities -she let us crawl, she let us learn. Now some might think it was cruel. But it is a memory, tucked away in my mind – a good life lesson.
We were allowed to grow and develop in our own time and our own way. We were tough as nails – when the frost was hanging on them. We rarely got sick and never saw doctors except in the case of emergencies. We were independent and allowed to be who we are today.