Town Farm Hand

My eighth year was a pivotal year.  My sister was born.  I now had a sibling with whom I had to share my family’s attention.  That spring we moved to Snyder, Oklahoma to live with my mother’s parents.  Our family now included six people.

Snyder was a farming community.  My grandparents lived in town; however, when you stepped out the door of the screened-in back porch, you entered into a farm world.

Ever since Granddad became blind in 1910 at the age of 35, nothing was changed in the fourth of a block they called home, except that it was now in Grandmother’s domain.

The mules, farm equipment, swine, cattle and haystacks were at the farm about two miles away.  The family living in the farmhouse watched over the animals and equipment and did the actual farming.  This was in the transition period when mules were being replaced by tractors. When Granddad bought an Allis Chalmers tractor, it was parked in our back yard and I thought we were really up to date.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the yard was a huge chicken pen encompassing half of the back yard.  Scampering to greet us was a throng of chickens of all colors and breeds.  I found that they were expecting us to toss grain to them for a mid- morning snack.  The large rooster with his enormous, bright red cocks-comb and brilliant tail and wing feathers was crowing and strutting to tell the world of his importance.  This didn’t last long before he started chasing one of the hens.  She dodged him for a while.

I then spied something very foreign for a chicken pen.  It was Grandmother’s Pekingese, Poochie.  He was not allowed in the house because Granddad might fall over him.  Poochie was wiggling his tail and also demanding attention.

Then I looked around and noticed a large garden a short ways from the door that looked like it needed attention. Within the chicken pen, I saw twenty-five or so rabbit hutches, a cow lot, a milking shed and nearby was a huge red barn.  The barn was much like those you see from the highway when you drive through farm country.  I didn’t see any other barns in town.

Soon I was helping with the chores.  I loved spreading the poultry feed around on the ground in a pattern to keep the hens from fighting for the food.  It was also fun to help Grandmother round up the hens and herd them into a small pen where I would catch the one Grandmother designated.  I would straighten out a wire clothes hanger except for the hook, then I would creep upon her and catch one of her legs in the hook and pull her in.

The next step was to wring the captive hen’s neck.  If Grandmother were the executioner, the skin around the neck would not be broken.  When Mother did the wringing, the head would come off and blood would fly all around the yard as the hen did her death dance.  We also would do a little dance to escape having blood flung on us, The one time I tried to wring a hen’s neck, she jumped up and ran away, clucking loudly and shaking her head.

Then the chicken was scalded, plucked, singed and cut up.  The parts were still warm when they arrived in the frying pan.  The white meat was always reserved for the women of the house but I would get to pull on the wishbone.  I was really happy when I pulled the larger share of the bone because I knew that my wish would come true.

The hen’s nests were lined up against the wall of the cowshed that was attached to the barn.  I helped out by gathering the eggs but that could be dangerous. Some of the hens that were in a maternal mode would be allowed sit on a nest of eggs for the 21-day incubation period.   Grandmother could handle only so many chicks so some of the potential moms were not allowed to sit on a nest for the long periods.  When these hens would see eggs in a nest, they would jump on the nest, sit on the eggs and make their maternal noises.    I found that I would have to be very careful gathering eggs from these nests.  These hens would peck my hand severely when I reached under her to pick up the eggs.  She thought I was trying to steal one of her prospective chicks.

Grandmother would put on her bonnet and go into the shed twice a day with a pail and a wet cloth to milk Daisy.  If the milking wasn’t done just right, Daisy would kick the dickens out of you so I was never allowed to try to milk.  From this milk, the women of the house would produce cream, butter, buttermilk and cottage cheese.

I fed and watered the rabbits every day.  They were splendid specimens of white rabbits with beautiful pink eyes.  I especially enjoyed this task since Granddad paid me for it.  These rabbits were all white meat and when barbequed were delicious. When Grandmother entertained the Pricilla Sewing Club she used the rabbit meat in making chicken salad. The club members would brag on the chicken salad but never knew the true source of the  “chicken”.

My favorite thing in the back yard was the big red barn.  Like the most other barns, it looked as if it was in the need a paint job.  There were no animals in the barn since they were housed out at the farm.

The huge barn door allowed trucks to enter loaded with wheat, oats, cottonseed or whatever to be scooped into the bins on either side.  Hay would be lifted into the loft.  The grain and cottonseed were kept there until planting season when they would be scooped back into the truck beds and taken to the field to be used for seed.

Just before WW 11, I remember three older boys were waiting for a load of wheat to arrive for them to scoop from a truck.  I enjoyed watching them laughing, kidding and playing around.  I especially remember them since in a few months they were included in the first draft for the army.  They were Dutch Miller, Jack Treadwell and his cousin, Pokey Knight.  They were in the Oklahoma 45th Division and fought in the North Africa and Italian campaigns.  They all made it home and Jack had received a battlefield commission and the Medal of Honor.

These bins made a wonderful playground for me and neighborhood buddies.  I usually would end up building a throne so that I could be the king.  The cottonseed was the most fun to play in but I soon learned what happens when you roll around in cotton seed while wearing wool pants.  I think Mother probably had to throw away my pants covered with white cotton.

When we entered the side door of the barn, we came upon screened-in shelves hanging on the wall.  These shelves contained what I loved most of all, ham and bacon.  I would accompany my dad to the farm where I watched him and friends slaughter a large hog and prepare him to be brought home for butchering.  This was not a very pretty sight but we had marvelous pork to devour all winter.

My mouth still waters when I think of the tasty fried tenderloin we had for breakfast for several days after the butchering.  The hams, shoulders and bellies were placed in the shelves in the barn and covered with brown Morton’s Smoked Salt.  I could hardly wait until the curing was complete which took a couple of months

From the other parts of the pig, Mother and Grandmother would make sausage and minced meat.  These were canned and placed in the dark closet under the stairway with the canned fruits, vegetables and jellies.  By mid summer, every thing in the garden was usually dried up except the okra and black-eyed peas.  These were the staff of life for most Southerners

Granddad was buried the day before Pearl Harbor.  Soon thereafter Grandmother had the town farm dismantled. Our family had moved into our own dwelling several years earlier.  How lucky I was to have been a part of the family town farm.  I got to see where much of our food came from and how it was processed.  I still can appreciate all the work that it took.  I believe that food was superior to any of that now found in delis and specialty shops.


Jim Pershall

March 2012

My parents, sister and grandmother outside the Town Farm home just before I went to Japan during World War II.

My parents, sister and grandmother outside the Town Farm home just before I went to Japan during World War II.

The Otwell Home in 2012, still standing but in need of repair.

The Otwell Home in 2012, still standing but in need of repair.