To some people, my grandparent’s house would be unacceptable to visit or live. They did not have indoor running water which meant the outhouse was the restroom. Visiting the outhouse was a chilling experience at Christmas time. It was unheated and about seventy feet from the house. You had to be serious about the need to visit the outhouse. A person did not go to the outhouse to meditate. At night, in the house there were a couple of pots or slop jars that filled in as a portable outhouse, because it was definitely warmer in the house. Privacy was limited.
If you wanted water to drink, you had to draw a bucket of water from the cistern. The cistern was part of the back porch which meant you may have to put on your coat to go get water. The water bucket was taken to the kitchen. Leaving the water bucket sitting on the cistern’s lid could mean you had ice water the next time you wanted a drink of water. You may have to break ice to get to the water.
The typical daily meals were simple. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, the meals were special with lots of delicious food. These special meals would be eaten about noon. My grandmother would cook for several days. My mother and aunt would bring food to the party that they had cooked. The food occupied the women’s time for several hours prior to the meal.
I got to spend time with my cousin. He was my hero. Before the meal, he and I would go fishing in one of the farm ponds if the weather permitted. If the weather was cold, we would hunt. I am not sure how serious we were at hunting, because we loved being outside with hunting being the reason for being outside. Most of the time, we would do competitive target shooting. This meant that we could have a good time shooting a leaf floating on a pond as long as you thought you were the best shot.
If snow was on the ground, we could practice tracking an animal. We looked for a trail in the snow that was made by a rabbit. We found it was easier to track a cow walking across a field. Their hooves made larger holes in the snow than a rabbit’s foot.
There were a few times that the air was so cold that the water in the ponds would freeze. It was fun skating or sliding across the ice. When the pond water was frozen, we could play hockey with dried cow pies and sticks that had fallen from trees. If we did not have a stick, we would kick the cow pie instead of hitting it with a stick. It was easier to fall when trying to kick the cow pie. A dried cow pie and a frozen cow pie are not the same thing. A frozen cow pie that had started to thaw after getting wet was not an enjoyable thing to kick.
Sometimes the ice would crack and make the “zinging” sound. When you heard the zinging sound, you stopped what you were doing and checked the ice. Falling into the cold water was not what I wanted to do. I am glad to say that we never fell though the ice.
We made sure we got back to the house in time to warm up before it was time to eat. The menu for the meals varied from year to year. Sometimes we would have a duck killed by my uncle or cousin. We one time had bear meat. We could have beef, pork, and chicken to eat. My grandfather stopped raising chickens and started raising rabbits. Tame rabbit’s meat tastes like dark chicken which is great to eat. We would have a congealed salad with several vegetables which were often canned from my grandparent’s garden. The deserts would be several pies and cakes. The food was very good to eat. A pecan cake was my favorite.
After the meal, the big hunt would begin. My cousin, our fathers, grandfather, and I would head out to hunt for meat. We were looking for rabbits and squirrels. Sometimes we would jump a covey of quail. Quail often sit in a circle with their tails in the center of the circle and heads pointed outward. Quail wait until you are on top of them before they will fly up. When the quail flew up, they headed in the direction they are pointed. Their wings made a loud noise. You will be startled by the sound they made. The shock of the sound and the ground at your feet moving was a good reason for a serious quail hunter to use a dog. Several birds flying up at the same time meant that you could be in the flight path of a bird. A bird zipping past your head was unnerving. By the time I recovered from the shock of the sound, moving ground, and flying birds, the quail had disappeared. I was not a threat to killing a quail.
Typically we would get back to the house after being gone for a couple of hours minus shotgun shells, rifle shells, and meat. We made a lot of noise with the guns without getting meat. It is good that we would eat before going hunting. The talking, bragging about who was the best shot, and just teasing each other was fun.
While the men were out getting the meat, the women cleaned up the kitchen and did their own style of talking and teasing.
Gifts would be exchanged after the dishes were washed and the big hunt ended. The gifts were simple and inexpensive. Each person would receive a gift from the other family and the grandparents.
My grandparents were not into buying gifts so they would give each person a five-dollar bill so each person could buy what they wanted. For a little kid, that was a lot of money. I was about twelve years older than my youngest cousin, Jerry. Jerry was five or six, and he was sitting next to my father when we were have our gift exchange. While Jerry was not looking, my father took the five-dollar bill out of his envelope and replaced it with a ten-dollar bill. Later when the gifts were being opened, my father made sure Jerry was watching him when he opened his money envelope. Jerry’s eyes got big when he saw the ten-dollar bill in my father’s envelope. He got upset, because he only got a five-dollar bill. He let my grandmother know he did not get a ten-dollar bill.
My father was picking at my little cousin. Suddenly the joke blew up in my father’s face. My grandmother got flustered, because she thought she had put the ten-dollar bill in my father’s envelope. She could not explain it. My grandfather got excited when he found out about the ten-dollar bill mistake. Finally my father owned up to what he had done. My cousin, grandmother, and grandfather were not happy with his joke. I thought it was funny. Until the truth was told, I was wondering what happened to my ten-dollar bill.
A few times Santa Claus delivered his presents when we were at my grandparent’s house. I did not know how Santa Claus knew we were at our grandparents. I remember one Christmas at my grandparents. I got a basketball and goal and a Hopalong Cassidy wrist watch. I was very happy with what I got. For younger people reading this article, Hopalong Cassidy was a western movie and TV star. The watch was wrapped around a cardboard saddle. I think I liked the saddle as much as I liked the watch. I had fun putting the watch on the saddle like it was a cowboy and taking the watch off the saddle.
Saturday was the night of taking a bath so you were clean for going to church on Sunday morning. Taking a bath was an experience that did give some value of only taking a bath once a week especially in the winter. The bath tub was a four-foot oblong galvanized tin bucket. Water heated on the stove was mixed with water from the cistern. Once the water was mixed, you took your bath in what could be at best called cool water. The room that served as the bath room was connected to the kitchen and was not heated. The door to the kitchen was closed for privacy, but you lost any heat from the kitchen to help keep the air warm. You quickly got into the tub, because the water was getting cooler and the air was getting cooler. You can say that a bath was quickly taken. Soaking in the tub was reserved to summer time months.
Taking a bath was a group activity. Water was precious so once the baths began, people would line up to take a bath. Kids were first to take their baths, and they were followed by the adults. As the bathers got larger, more water was added to the tub to give more water in which to take a bath. Getting out of the water meant you stood up in cool air. You would quickly dry off and put your clothes on.
Spending the night at my grandparents in the winter and during the weekend was a cross between an adventure and camping. Sleeping at my grandparents was fun and was an experience that was nothing like sleeping at home in my bed and room that were heated by electric wall heaters. The house was heated by two coal burning stoves and one coal burning grate or fireplace. It was very warm in the rooms when you went to bed. The temperature would soon be in the cold range, because the fire would go out in the stoves. Someone would, early in the morning, get out of a warm bed into cold air to build the fires. The kids considered building the fires to be an adult thing. The kids were not interested in getting up early or may it should be said they were not interesting in getting out of a warm bed.
As a small boy, sleeping meant a customized bed was made for me. Six chairs from the kitchen table were used to make a bed. Three chairs were put on each side with the backs serving as a rail for the bed. The chairs on each side were pushed together so the seats were touching. A couple of quilts were laid on the chair seats to form the mattress. As a small boy, I liked this bed. It was special to me.
As I got older, I got to sleep in a couch that was a fold out bed that had a feather mattress. This bed was very warm in the winter and very hot in the summer. One bad thing about the feather bed mattress is a feather could start working though the mattress’ cover. The small tip of the feather was sharp. It would hurt when you rolled over on the feather, and the feather pricked your skin. The feather mattress would wrap around you, and it was easy to be warm even when the fire went out. It may be hard to believe. I could be very warm in the bed, and I could see ice on the covers that had frozen from the water vapor in my breath. That will give you incentive to stay in bed.
Spending Christmas at my grandparents and spending the night with them was special to me. Leaving my grandparent’s house would make me a little sad. I had enjoyed myself and gotten to be with my cousin. Things were not as exciting at home where I did not have to put on my coat to go to the bathroom.
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Date Last Changed 12-28-2007