Those are words from a popular song written several years ago. They are much more appropriate now than they were back then. It is summertime and hot, with 90-plus degree weather, but these days we have ice makers, refrigerators, fans, and air conditioning everywhere, in homes, offices, stores, even in barns. That was not the case when I was growing up, and I am sure that people look back to those days and wonder how our ancestors, and especially the farmers, made it through the hot summers.
Not everyone had an electric stove, as they were a rare and high priced item. Cooking was done on coal stoves. Some farm wives were lucky and had “summer kitchens”, which were small buildings away from the main house, where all the meals were cooked and served, thus keeping the main house cooler for sleeping. Everyone drank lots of water, lemonade, and iced tea and ate lots of fresh vegetables from the gardens. The canning of meat, fruits, and vegetables in preparation for winter was also done there.
Sleeping could be difficult in the summer heat. I can remember my Dad taking some old blankets out and putting them down on the ground under the big maple tree and we slept there a few nights. The ground was hard and there were the occasional bugs, but I thought it was fun, and it was the closest I ever got to going camping!
The cows were out on pasture day and night. They would eat early in the morning and then head for the “alders” along the creek in the pasture bottom. It was amazing how cool it was there all day long. They would head home for milking around five o’clock. Milking time could be pretty hot in the evening, leaning against the warm flanks of the cows. Once they were done, they would fill up at the watering trough and head back out to graze as the evening cooled down.
The pigs were kept in fenced in lots, and of course they had their “wallowing holes” filled with wet, cool mud. They spent most of their time there, coming out only when it was time to “slop” them. The days were hard on the horses, as they had to keep working. Lots of cool water and giving them time to rest under a shade tree kept them going, but they were glad to get back to the barn for their oats and to be relieved of the heavy, hot harness and allowed to cool down and rest for the next day.
Carrying water to the fields for the men who were bindering and shocking grain or making hay was a chore for us kids. Some people didn’t have refrigerators to make ice, so we would fill the jugs from the cold water that ran in the spring houses. Some of the fields were far away, and we made a lot of trips. We would have several days in a row when it was in the nineties and we made hay every day. It would be loaded on the wagon loose with a hay loader, quite a modern improvement from raking it into huge piles with a “dump rake” and then pitching it onto wagons by hand with a pitchfork.
My Dad often talked about the time my Grandpa Wagner was almost killed in a dump rake. He was raking hay with a team of young mares that were only “green broke”. Something spooked them and they ran away. My grandpa fell off the seat and was caught up in the dump part of the rake that gathered the hay and was dragged along as they ran. To this day no one knows why the dump handle suddenly released by itself and dumped him out. That was the only time it ever dumped without someone pulling the handle!
Wagon loads of hay were taken to the barn where “hay forks” were set in the hay and horses were used to pull it up to where it latched onto a track and went to the “mow”, where men with pitchforks placed it around so the mow could be properly filled. It was a hot job! Some people also filled a mow with straw at threshing time, another hot, dirty job! The men would come out of the mow covered with dust and wringing wet with sweat.
The outfits for farmers in those days were straw hats, short sleeved shirts,(some wore light weight long-sleeved shirts), trousers, heavy work shoes or boots, and large bandanas to wipe the sweat. Shorts were very rare and then only occasionally seen on children. If they didn’t have corn to hoe or other chores to do, the kids would head for the creek to wade in the cool water, catch crawfish, and just enjoy nature. Some were lucky enough to have a “swimming hole” located near them.
Once again it is summertime but the livin’ is much easier! With the weatherman predicting temperatures in the 90s again this week, it is nice to know we can turn on our fans and air conditioners and keep cool. Right now, I am going to go get a glass of ice cold lemonade!
Barb Lumley wrote this column to be published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.