Bio: Forster, Paul - Childhood Farm Memories

Email: paulforster@verizon.net

 

----Source: Family Albums & Memories of Paul Forster

 

I, Faenile

Anno Domini 2012

 

Most people don’t think of lowly barns as vibrant beings, just something to stick cows and hay into.  But, some of us are endowed with perception.  We see and sense lots of things, have long memories, and on occasion even show flashes of humor.  Lying here in my cinders, after some thoughtless lout forgot to put out his cigarette and burned me down, I was wondering how I could get some of my memories into words.  Then to my great good fortune, I espied a wee, wizened mole, scurrying through my tunnels seeking refreshment.  Strange dude!  Wore wire-rimmed spectacles, which I suppose is not all that strange since it is said they don’t see so pretty good.  The main thing, though, was he was carrying a teensy-weensy I Pad!  So, I approached him to see if he might be willing to listen to my vagaries and put them into digits for me.  Having just finished a tasty morsel and, with me agreeing to point him to other lucrative areas in my cinders for other delicacies, Thomás (as such was his name) agreed to be my scribe.  So, here goes!

 

As barns go, I was fairly underwhelming; some 50 feet high at the gables, and roughly 80 feet square; pitched roof over the hay mow, and slanting roof over the cow stanchions, which were about 1/3rd of the south part of me.  Roy and Agnes only milked 12-15 cows.  It always amazed me how they could raise four children on these 60 very mediocre acres  Across the front were stanchions for 3-4 calves and a stall for the two horses, initially Prince and Frank, then the sorrel Mighty Jim (of whom more later) and a black whose name I forget.  There was a water tank above the center door, filled at first by a gas engine, later by an electric pump.  Got cold in there in the winter.  I recall several times they had to use a blow torch to thaw the pipes enough to get water to all the cows.  A wonder they didn’t burn me down long ago.  There was also a large wooden feed box, with a scoop made out of tin and rounded wood with an old broom handle stuck in it.  A ladder led to the hay mow, and I recall L’l Paulie fell from it once and knocked the wind out of him.  Goofy kid!  He used to wrestle with his dog Toby in front of the cows after the milking was done.  It was a wonder the cows didn’t tear the stanchions out with all the ruckus.

 

Part of me, with Phyllis and Li’l Paulie

 

Notice the fancy schmancy bike.  There is a story there.  Roy always had 5-6 pigs around, both to have some delicious pork as well as to make a bit of extra cash on the litters.  L’l Paulie picked up on that in a hurry as he was memorizing the Sears Roebuck catalog, with his eye on a nice bike.  So, he started working on Roy to give him a little piglet, so he could raise it, eventually have it bred and produce a litter so he could sell it and get enough for the bike.  After some mighty cajoling, Roy finally gave in, and L’l Paulie dutifully fed said piglet until she was old enough to be bred.  And, in due course there appeared 6 baby pigs.  He took care of them until they were old enough to sell, and got $60 buckos – a prince’s ransom for a little ole farm kid.  Roy honored his agreement, and off they went to Stanley; the Gamble’s store I think it was.  Back home them came, L’l Paulie proud as punch.  He had, of course figured out how to ride a bike by using Glenn Rasmussen’s when he could.  So he hopped right on it and sped around, braking amidst a splash of gravel.  Guess he put a couple cards on the spokes with a clothes pin he swiped from Agnes to make it sound kind of like a Harley.  Yeah, right.

 The very first order of business was to pile all his comic books in a sack, and ride over to see Walter Wartolek, a young man considered by all to have the best collection of comics in the entire Township. As he gleefully returned, heavily laden with juicy new comics, L’l Paulie made a big mistake, which was to grant him additional wisdom. Parking the bike, he roared into the house to tell Agnes and Phyllis about his great good fortune. Well, before he could even think “Rumpled Stiltskin” Agnes and Phyllis glommed on to the comics – all of them, and proceeded to do a censorship check. Poor L’l Paulie. All he had left was a meager handful of Little Lu Lu, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Donald with 2-3 Huey, Dewey and Louies. Gone were all the juicy Batman, Green Hornet and those of similar ilk. Banned forever. He stomped out of the house a sad but infinitely wiser kid. The next time, he first wheeled into the shed, sorted the comics into a very small pile of the wussy ones, and stashed the good ones above the garage. The little wussy stack he took in the house for censorship! Thus he learned that wonderful German axiom, So Schnell Alt, So Spät Smart.

 

Western me, and L’l Paulie

Me with hay door open, and L’l Paulie

Wagon by Dufus!

 

I think Lorraine told me once that Roy’s sister, Vi, gave them this wagon.  As you can see, it was never a “body by Fisher” but did look a whole lot better before Vaughn got hold of it.  One fine day, he thought it would be fun to tie the wagon to a young, sprightly calf so it could give him a ride, instead of him having to put a knee in the wagon and peddle with his left;  most unsatisfactory, as well as not very fast.  So, he tied said and aforementioned sprightly calf to the wagon tongue, got in the wagon, and flicked a little switch on the calf’s behind.  Calf started walking.  Then heard this little rumble behind it, and walked faster.  The noise increased, and so did the calf.  Soon they were headed down the lane, helledy larrup, as Roy liked to say.  Very soon, the calf rounded the end of the lane, the wagon hit a stone; wagon and Vaughn went buns over teakettle.  Thankfully the wagon became separated from the calf at this point, or they might be in Nebraska by now.  Sadly, the wagon was non campus mentis, with a busted wheel, and some rumpled slats.  Vaughn, by then quite knowledgeable of the law of unintended consequences, pulled the decrepit thing back to the shed, where Roy patiently tried to fix it.  As you can see, he nearly did!  Ahh, the farm life!

 

I very nearly forgot.  One lazy winter afternoon I was dozing, with the icicles slowly melting from my eaves troughs, when from the Forster domicile there erupted a God awful squeal, which persisted some minutes.  For a moment I thought Roy had finally lost it.  Then I heard them talking and it turned out Vaughn The Curious had been fooling around with Agnes’ sewing machine and run a needle through one of his fingers.  From the sound of things you’d have thought someone had amputated both legs with a rusty saw!  I don’t know how much more “wisdom” this family can take.

 

Me in background with Roy and Gus

Part of me with straw pile, & Agnes, L’l Paulie, Roy, Vaughn, Lorraine, Phyllis

 

For a long time the main horse on the farm was Jim.  He was a sorrel, very spirited and generally quite docile.  He and a black mate, whose name I disremember, would pull the hay mower, rake, hay wagons and other things.  He was also the one Roy used to clean me every morning.  Cows, you know, poop a lot, so there was always a plethora of manure to take to the fields.  It would have taken a king’s ransom to put in a barn cleaner, so Roy or one of the boys had to do it with a stone boat and a shovel.  The stone boat was originally made to pick up stones from the fields, but with ten-inch high side boards it was also ideal for manure.  Jim would pull it into the barn and, as the gutters were cleaned, slowly skootch it towards the other door.  At the end, he would have to really strain on the slippery cement floor to get enough traction to move it, but he always managed.

 

Perhaps the funniest thing in my short lifetime happened one summer day.  Roy wanted to get Jim into the barn so he could harness him for a job in the field.  Jim wasn’t having any of it.  Roy would go around one side of the barn and Jim would whinny and prance his way around the other.  During one circuit, Jim paused to lean over the pig pen fence to snarf some feed from the hogs.  He had not counted on running into the electric fence!  It really startled him; reared up on his hind legs, threw his head back with a piercing whinny, and charged off down the lane and into the woods, streaming loud staccato flatuses all the way!  Tears ran off my shingles, I laughed so hard!  Roy, however, was not amused!  In fact, he was big time peeved.  He stalked off to the house and I thought that was the last of it.  But a few minutes later, Roy came out, cradling that old single-barrel, 16 gauge, Iver Johnson shotgun in his arm.  He slammed a shell in, closed the barrel and stomped down the lane after Jim.  By this time, Jim was standing under a large tree in the northwest corner of the woods.  As Roy approached, he moved to the northeast corner, then to the southeast corner, with Roy fuming some distance behind.  When Jim got back to the original position, Roy had had enough; raised the shotgun and let fly.  I guess he was planning to send a slug over Jim’s back to scare him up the lane, but Roy misjudged and hit Jim in the hip.  That took the smart alecky starch out of Jim, you bet.  His head dropped down, and he slowly limped up the lane, across the barn yard and straight into his stall.  There he meekly stood, with blood running down his leg.  Roy wasn’t sure what had happened until he got into the barn.  Some choice expletives rumpled my shingles, as Roy bounded to the house for his wallet, jumped into the car and tore off helledy larrup toward Stanley.  About 30 minutes later he came charging back into the yard, with the vet hot on his heels.  I have no idea if they ever got the slug out, but fortunately it did not hit any bones.  They cleaned him up, and put on a bandage, gave him a shot, and figured it would take several weeks for him to heal.  The next day, Roy slowly walked him up to what would become Vaughn’s barn, and let him loose in the north end so he could munch on hay and oats, and get some exercise.  I learned a lot that day, like - when Roy wanted you in the barn, you best damn well get there!

Me in background, Jim and Vaughn.

 

I bet none of you knew that barns could communicate with each other!  No, we never got together for canasta and gossip, but we managed to “talk” to each other when stuff happened.  Like for ‘zample:

 

 

For a long time, Roy had a vintage 10-20 tractor; steel wheeled, and tough to steer (kind of like the above, only it did not have red wheels.  Vaughn’s barn once told me that Phyllis, then a slip of a girl, was chugging along a hay furrow in one of Vaughn’s hay fields, pulling the hay wagon and hay loader, with Roy loading.  Soon Roy noticed there was no hay coming up the loader.  He turned around, and there was darling Phyllis sound asleep on the tractor, heading for the woven wire fence.  Roy could be a fast little guy when he put his mind to it, but he couldn’t get to the tractor quite fast enough – and it mulched up about 10 feet of woven wire fence.  Most unhappy, and chagrined, was she, and no one let her forget it for some time – even to this day.  Fortunately, I am currently already toast or she would give me a colossal fresh one!

 

Sleeping while riding machinery that sounded like the trip hammers of Hades was not all that unusual.  Alex Gutowski’s barn told me of another instance.  Roy used to take the oat binder to help Godwin (cannot now remember his first name, but he owned what later became Stanley Slowiak’s).  Godwin’s job was to sit on the oat binder, and when the little wire metal basket got full of oat bundles, he would step on a lever to dump it in a nice neat pile so the shockers could handle things easily.  Roy happened to look around one time, and discovered oat bundles laying higgledy-piggley across the field, and then noticed Godwin sound asleep up on top, bouncing along with not a care in the world!  Here!  Tell me how you sleep on this?

 

 

Young Paulie also learned to drive the 10-20 when he was so young he had to hold the steering wheel with both hands, and but both feet on the clutch.  Roy would then put it into first gear and jump back on the hay wagon.  Then L’il Paulie would VERY S L O W L Y let out the clutch, and off they would go.  After a few misses, he figured out the arc he would have to make in order for the hay loader to pick up the swath and things were good.  No woven wire fences for Paulie, but I’ve always attributed that to gross good fortune rather than skillful driving!

 

My favorite story about Roy:  In the “olden days” the farmers would get together to help each other with threshing and silo filling.  They would move the machine from farm to farm picking up the oat bundles, hauling them to the barn area and run them through the threshing machine.  Well, for several years Broeking’s happened to be the last job.  Farmers tend to act like boys on the last day of school at the last job.  Roy was generally the Instigator-in-Charge.  He would sneak over to Hill Top (a tavern where the Thorp Town Hall now stands on old 29).  There he would purchase a case of beer and two bottles of the finest Old Crow.  Back to Broeking’s he scurried, cleverly putting the case of beer in the stock tank to cool, and stashing one bottle of Old Crow in the granary and one in the milk house.  When the guys came in with wagons full of oats, they would first head for the milk house for a drink, taking a slug of Old Crow in the process.  Guys who carried the sacks of grain to the granary did the same thing.  By the end of the job, just about everyone was half manure-faced.  As they went in the house for dinner, Roy sidled into the center of the table, but failed to notice a large bowl of gravy sitting on his plate (the rest of the table was literally groaning with other stuff).  He also failed to notice the gravy ladle’s handle was sticking out toward his seat.  As he sat down, part of his overalls caught the spoon and soon he was festooned with the finest gravy!  Much embarrassed was he, and was for several weeks the butt of some ribbing.  Mrs. Broeking and the others there helping with dinner were most unpleased.  The guys always said the cause of this sad state of affairs was Broeking’s water!  Water, my rosy red ridgeline!  Roy and his Old Crow were the real culprits.

 

Bob Rasmussen’s barn told me another one late one night.  The guys were threshing at Pat Jordan’s, must have been one of Bill’s fields near what’s now old 29, across from Germundson’s little store.  Something spooked Pat’s team and they charged out of the field onto 29 and headed for Stanley.  Vaughn jumped into his vintage pickup and Pat Jordan climbed into the bed.  Down 29 he roared.  29 takes a curve just west of Roger Creek bridge. Thankfully the horses were getting winded by that time, and traffic was light – thank the Lord.  As Vaughn edged the pickup alongside the wagon, Pat jumped to the wagon, grabbed the reins and slowly brought the team under control.  Close call, that!  And you thought The Dukes of Hazard was mere fiction!

 

Every farm generally had a milk house in those days, and there is where everyone headed to get a cold drink as they came in with a load of oats or corn.  Everyone also had a communal dipper.  Pat Jordan, for example, had one made out of half a coconut shell. He also had one of those stupid Studebaker’s and you could never tell whether he was coming or going!  I should talk.  Roy had a 1949 Ford that wasn’t much better.  Anyway, L’l Paulie found out the hard way that it behooved him to get to that dipper BEFORE the guys who chewed!   Eeeeeooooo!  ‘Tis truly said that misfortune begeteth wisdom!

See! We barns “get around.”

 

Before the Rural Electric Association brought light to the land, everyone milked by hand.  Roy’s cats would sit expectantly behind the cow and would sit up like little prairie dogs as the milkers would squirt milk in its general direction.  Said kitty lapped furiously, and then sauntered off, licking his chops.  Contented pussy cats make sound mousers, as the saying goes.

 

Of course one had to put the milk through a strainer so as to get MOST of the impurities out.  Which currently begs the question of why are we not all that much better off now that things are “cleaner”?  Anyway, when they changed the strainer pad, they would chuck it out behind the milk house.  But, Paul’s dog Toby was pretty astute and the pad rarely even made it to the ground.  It would generally hit the ground the next day J

 

In the morning, around 06:30 or so, the Soo Line would come puffing through, with its little engine belching smoke and snorting along.  Then one day, we hear this marvelous horn, and behold there was a gorgeous new diesel engine!  You could look around the neighborhood, and everyone was standing next to the barn looking at this new marvel.  And, it never got old.  Every day all those people would gawk at it.  I have to admit, after barns, it was actually pretty cool.

 

Then one day, a nice fellow showed up, selling milking machine; Surge and DeLaval if memory serves.  The nice fellow was an Etton (although I may not be spelling it correctly).  He was from Cadott way.  Had a very nice family, a lovely lass, an older boy (whose name escapes me) had a voice like an angel, and Henry, about Paul’s age.  Anyway, Roy soon had a Surge milker.  It was a beauty!  Of course they had to put in a vacuum system, next to the water tank, but things went very smoothly after that.  And, Toby still got his milk pads!  Somewhat sad though to see the hand-milking go by the boards.  It was a good time of day for everyone to sit on a silly wooden stool with mind wandering about all the fantastic stuff they were going to accomplish in life.  Then, back to shoveling manure!

 

I was also the scene of L’l Paulie’s first cigarette, or to be more precise, the first 2-3 puffs.  He had snitched one from Roy, along with a match or two.  He stood by that old feed box, lighted up and was almost immediately a basket case!  Coughing and wheezing, with a still-lit match in his hand.  I wasn’t sure which would happen first – him getting deathly sick or me burning to the ground before my time.  Toby looked on concernedly!  Dogs are so empathetic.  Anyway that passed, with Paulie seemingly having learning his lesson.  However, it wasn’t long after that he tried a mouthful of Red Man while loading some hay.  That was nearly a disaster too.  But the thing that really got him was the snuff.  He tried a generous pinch of Roy’s Copenhagen one evening and did some industrial strength commode-hugging for a time!  That cured him for a plethora of moons!

 

Every couple of years Roy and Agnes would have me white washed.  But, before calling the dude to do it, they had to clean the barn, which meant sweeping down all the cob webs.  Cob webs, of course, presuppose spiders – without which there ain’t no cob webs!  L’l Paulie got the job of sweeping.  But he was deathly afraid of spiders, so Agnes always ended up “helping.”  Boy did I look great after the white wash.  You couldn’t see it of course, but I had a marvelous smile on my face and carried myself straighter for months after a white wash.

 

From the day school ended until the day it started again, L’l Paulie would go barefoot – except for church on Sunday of course.  Well, he sometimes wore work shoes to get the cows and when he got them into the barn he would take them off and set them near the door.  Once, a big old spider crawled in one!  I have never seen a shoe come off so fast; hopping around like he was in a nest of rattle snakes!  Silly boy!

 

Haying time would show up and Roy would climb up to let the hay door down.  A rope ran along my ridgeline to a pulley at the back, then down to a pulley at the bottom, then either the horses or a tractor would pull it out toward the lane until the grapple hook was tripped in the barn.  It was there that more misfortune begat wisdom.  The track of the rope traversed the barn yard, in which were assorted cow pies.  L’l Pauli didn’t think much about that, until it came time to pull the rope back to the bottom pulley for the next forkful of hay.  Rope moving over soft and squishy cow pies tends to become – how to say this delicately – besmirched!  Paulie was a fast learner!  Off to the barn he went, grabbing a shovel and clearing a path through the cow pies BEFORE he made the next trip.  Budding Rhoades Scholar, that boy!

 

Green, Green Grass of Home.  That is a wonderful and poignant song.  Lots of people have sung it, but the Tom Jones version really dews my shingles.  Dairy farmers, however, have a slightly different take on Green, Green Grass of Home.  In the Spring, after the dog days of Winter, and the cows having been sustained on a scoop of feed over silage, with some dry hay as a chaser, were let out in the pasture where there was tall, juicy and succulent grass.  And they filled all their stomachs.  This of course had a direct effect on bowels!  L’l Paulie discovered additional wisdom one evening as he walked behind one of the bossies.  She lifted her tail, summoned up a colossal cough and Paulie was suddenly wearing overalls covered with raw sewage.  Crestfallen was he!  Off to the stock tank to freshen up. 

 

Birds, bees and calves.  Li’l Paulie frequently asked Agnes where calves came from, and she would mumble about “later” and tell him to hoe the weeds over there.  So he hoed, and thought, and hoed some more.  Then, one evening as he was herding the cows to the barn for milking, there – right in front of him – a cow (I think it might even have been that cheeky Corliss) gave birth to a gangling little calf.  Hmmmmm!  As soon as they were in the barn milking, he told his mother, “never mind about the calf, Ma!  I got it.”  Patience too, doth lead to wisdom.

 

The Forster family was blessed, as were so many in those days, with a nice outdoor privy.  Quite well made it was too.  Had a cement floor with comfy throne, well outfitted with choice “Monkey” Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs for one’s comfort.  That was well before the days of “Angel Soft.”  Well, Roy and Agnes finally decided to install indoor plumbing.  Roy went to Stanley and bought a large tank and had a guy weld in the input and drain fittings, then hauled it back to the house.  He, Vaughn and Large Paulie (by this time) dug a hole for it just south of the house.  Then came the drain which was to go from the house (generally under the kitchen window, under the driveway to the ditch.  About halfway between house and driveway they hit a LARGE rock.  Would not budge no matter how much they dug.  Roy got vexed.  Went into the shed, found a half stick of dynamite, cap and fuze, and proceeded to wire it up.  He then crawled into the trench, facing the house, fitted the dynamite under the rock and shoved as much dirt and gravel against it as he could, lit the fuze and clambered out of the trench.  The three of them stood under the locust tree.  KA-BLOOIE!  Once again, unintended consequences struck this quiet Midwest community!  The rock?  Oh, it was just fine, but the kitchen window was now in the Upper Peninsula, and the siding had a roughly 10 foot circle of holes made by gravel and dirt!  Agnes, normally the soul of patience and kindness, skewered poor old Roy.  I though the next morning I would see hid hide nailed to the shed.  He went into town, bought 3 bundles of matching shingles and patched things up as best he could – but you could always see the difference.  Yes, the indoor plumbing was finally installed, although the drain ditch was a bit lower than originally intended due to the ratz-o-fratzin rock!

 

A parting thought.  You have no doubt heard the saying, “’til the cows come home”?  Well, truer words were never uddered.  Stupid bovines.  Li’l Paulie would saunter out of the house after dinner to fetch the cows for milking.  Were they in the barnyard, anxiously awaiting to be relieved of their heavy loads?  No indeed.  They were always in the far, far southeast corner of the farm, across the creek, munching happily, swishing the flies away.  So, Li’l Paulie would gently call them:  “Here, Cowie Cowie.  Moo Moo, baa baa!”  Bupkis!  So down the lane he would stomp.  Just this side of the creek, now a swamp because it had rained, he paused for another round of “Cowie’s.”  No luck.  One, that cheeky Corliss, even brazenly gave him the hoof.  Boy, that sizzled his cheeks.  Across the creek he went, sloshing through the swamp, 300 yards, uphill, both ways, and slowly herded the recalcitrant bunch to the barn.  And, sure enough, as soon as they were safely in their stanchions, I heard Corliss bellow a painful cry as Li’l Paulie tattooed her butt with a switch.  Hoof him, will ya?

 

I have to take a break.  I’m getting choked up over here!

 

Faenilski &Tomás

 

 


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