Cutting Oats

My husband and I live in the old family house I grew up in.  It’s been around since the late 1800’s and keeps Todd busy with repairs and upkeep.  Mom and Dad downsized to a condo and everything in the attic and basement collected over 40 years came with the house. The basement still needs some work but I went through the attic a couple summers ago.   

I’m a hopeless sentimentalist; holding on to the smallest scrap of paper if there is something special written on it.  Anything that Todd has managed to toss happened on a day I wasn’t around.

You can imagine what it was like to uncover boxes of old photos and scrapbooks from generations past.  I spent days sorting and carrying things down for Mom and Dad to look through.  They’d seen it all before and didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic about it all as I was.  I found one rather large, tattered box filled with letters they had written to each other dated 1948-1949, saved in batches and carefully tied with ribbons. 

Mom was not one to look back.  As I record these stories, I wish I had more of hers.  They just weren’t that important to her to hold on to. She was a pioneer – always scouting out new territory and moving forward to the next thing.   The ones that were important to her, she told.  I guess what I’m discovering is that we love the old stories because it keeps people that have passed on alive with us.  Not only with us but with those that will follow.  That, to me, is important. So I write…  –Debbie

I learned a lot about the Rahn farm by being there.  I learned how to milk a cow by hand.  Dolores’s mother wanted some cows so they’d have cream and of course they’d drink the unpasterized milk.  Her dad hated these cows because you had to milk them morning and night and that was something he didn’t want to be tied to. 

Dad on the Rahn farm

Dad on the Rahn farm

I shared in the butchering of a pig.  You started with a 22 and would kill them with good aim and a quick shot.  Then followed the whole process of cleaning the intestines, cooking, grinding and stuffing the casings to make sausage. That was a fascinating thing for me.  I tried to help cut the oats and make the bales of straw but I’ve had asthma all my life so I didn’t do too much of that.  They had to bring me in because I was out in the field trying to pitch the straw and with all the dust I just couldn’t do it.  I was wheezing badly and Dolores didn’t know what was going on. 

“Are you going to be alright?”

“Leave me alone,” was all I could say. That was the first time she got introduced to my asthma.

Samsung 062713a 160She came to Milwaukee one time on the train to visit.  She loved being in Milwaukee and just being together — doing a little shopping at Gimbels —  that was the place to go then.  One of the precious things I remember about her was when she got a phone call from her Dad saying the neighbor was sick and she had to come home to drive the tractor.  I was impressed that Dolores had learned how to do that.  She spent a lot of time on the tractor in the field and entertained herself by learning to recite the ABCs backwards.  She told me how her Dad would holler if she didn’t get the corners square.  As the mower came around you had to make nice square corners or oats would be wasted so that was important.  When she got it right, he would smile.

So now we had a year apart because Dolores decided to drop out from school to work and save money so we could get married while I went back to school.  We each wrote a letter every day.  She found a job in a neighboring town at a publishing company as a clerk typist and never finished up at Illinois.  She’d get a ride each day because another gal from Lanark worked there.  I’d go to see her every other week.  I’d hitchhike to save money.  The other two guys on my meal job would cover for me. I’d leave after breakfast, take the bus to the edge of town and put my thumb out.  I only had one bad experience.  The guy who picked me up had been drinking.  I don’t know if he was really drunk but it bothered me.

Dolores’s farm was pretty far off the main road and on one of my trips the driver took me all the way over, right up to the farm house.  Another time, a driver even stopped and bought me lunch!  I always had my harmonica so while I was waiting for a ride I learned to play it.  On Sunday night, after our visits, her dad would take me over to a neighboring town that had a bus stop.  That made it possible for me to stay all day and leave when it was dark to catch the bus back to school.  I’d get into my room about 11:00 p.m. and start doing the homework that I hadn’t done all weekend. 

One Monday morning, I overslept. Around 8:00 a.m. there was a rap on my door and the two guys I worked with on my meal job woke me up and had brought me breakfast. 

So the big part of that year was every other weekend when I’d go see Dolores.