Guest post from Anne Schroeder: A typical day in “Green” Acres

(As promised— a day in the life of Anne Schroeder’s childhood told with wit, humor and practical common sense. All things Anne.)

Growing up on the farm with seven kids, two parents and three dogs, we lived “green” before we knew what it meant.

Everyone we knew had three-bedroom houses with no central heating, no air conditioning and a bathroom down the hall (if they were lucky. Some still used outhouses.)

A typical day in “Green” Acres:

Sleep under three handmade quilts that Grandma made for us out of old men’s wool suits, dark brown, grey and black. They were so heavy, it was hard to turn over at night. Houses had no insulation in them. Water froze in the glass some nights. We slept with knit caps to retain body heat, with our noses under the quilts. It wasn’t home without a sister in my bed for warmth.
6:30  Try not to be the first one up because you’d have to light the wood stove and turn on the butane heater in the living room. The younger children dress in front of the stove.

6:45 Mom has stacks of French Toast, bowls of oatmeal or cream of wheat waiting. We can drink all the milk we want, but everything else is  measured for fairness.

We bought our bread at the day-old bakery. Oats came in large gunny sacks.

6:50 Brother Mel (starting at age 12) comes in with the bucket of milk from the cow. He rushes to shower. Everyone has to be finished with the bathroom so he won’t be late.

7:15 Run the quarter-mile down the driveway to the bus. Rain or shine.

8:00-3:15 School. If we got detention we had to haul 13 wheelbarrow loads of manure from the barn to the garden. I did it ONCE.

4:15 Home from school bus. Hang school clothes in closet. Change into work clothes, which get washed once a week.

We hung everything on the clothesline, usually filling the lines two or three times. Clothes were made of stiff cotton. We starched everything and sprinkled and ironed nearly everything we wore until polyester came in. Yeah!! We had a mangle for the sheets and tablecloths.

My mother had a rule—if we were on the telephone (a yellow wall phone that hung in the laundry room) we had to iron while we chatted. When I started getting calls from boys I would iron 26 blouses without even noticing it until I hung up!

4:30 Mom has snack prepared. Usually cobbler, cookies or bread pudding made from the 2 ½ gallons of milk the cow gives each day.

Each of us has a color. My color is red. Sisters’ are green, yellow, orange. Brother’s is blue. I have a red cup, a red towel and washcloth, a red lunch bucket, etc. We wash the cup after each use. The towel gets washed once a week.

4:30 Outside to do chores. In summer we move irrigation pipe twice a day, herd and sort sheep, hoe fields of sugar beets, tend the garden, mow the lawns, drive tractor for the alfalfa fields. In winter we wash down the kitchen, sweep and mop the floors daily (farm boots are filthy and there is a crawling baby and toddler.)

One summer afternoon, we were canning 25 lug boxes of peaches, sticky sugar water up to our elbows, and my mother made a casual comment that the hens needed butchering. Half an hour later my 7-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister came dragging a box of dead hens. She had held them down while he chopped their heads off with a hatchet. We set the peaches aside, plucked and cleaned nine chickens and went back to canning. Took us until midnight.

5:30 The girls peel potatoes and set the table every night. Girls do dishes by hand every night.

6:00 Supper. We are allowed to make a dinner suggestion, but everyone eats the meal that is prepared. We have to try everything, and even with liver and onions we have to clean our plates. Meat is passed to the ones who work outside first, then in order of age.

My high school home-ec teacher had me follow my mother around the kitchen for a week recording everything we ate because she couldn’t believe our family of nine could eat for $25 a week. But I proved we could.  We didn’t buy potato chips, ice cream, cottage cheese, butter, or any type of snack or dessert because we made our own. We canned all our own fruits, froze our veggies, provided our own milk, eggs and grass-fed meat. We made homemade ice cream every day of the summer, hand cranked, with ice that I froze in the chest freezer. No sodas, no alcohol, no extras. When we went to town we could buy a nickel’s worth of penny candy.

We had a windmill and a holding tank, but when the wind didn’t blow, we had no water. We would run our hand along the side to feel the coolness and judge the amount of water left.

7:00-9:00 Homework around the kitchen table where it was warm from the wood stove. We helped each other with very little talking. We had no television, so if we finished early we read to the younger children or to ourselves, played board games or made popcorn.

7:00 Baths were taken on Saturday nights and Wednesday nights, two kids at a time in the bathtub, with no more than three inches of water. By the second bath, you could tell the water line by the dirt ring. If we were short of water, we saved the bath water (two inches allowed) and scooped it into 5-gallon buckets that stood next to the toilet for flushing.  Brown, flush it down. (Strict two squares of toilet paper rule.)

On Saturday nights, I have the task of polishing everyone’s shoes for church and lining them up across the kitchen floor after they are polished and shined. There is something so satisfying about seeing everyone’s shoes in their right order.

Mom sewed everything we wore until we were eleven, then we started sewing for ourselves and the children. I never knew my store dress size until I was in college and bought my first dress. We had older cousins, so every season we got a box of hand-me-downs that we rushed through to get dibs on the best. Mom would arbitrate according to who it fit the best. We had two pairs of shoes a year—a new pair of saddle shoes for school in September and a pair of white dress shoes for Easter.  Sometimes, we got a black pair of dress shoes for winter.

Other green tips—We swam in an old stock pond that my father kept leak-free with asphalt sealer. The dogs got fed every night after supper—table scraps. They slept under the house. Ours were trained to work the sheep (in Basque) so we weren’t allowed to play with them. Later we got dogs that were pets.

Believe it or not, there were many times that I would look across the room at our happy, industrious family and I would tear up because I couldn’t imagine how life would ever be better than it was at that moment. We had no cash, but we had everything we needed.

Making do with less is a conscious choice that frees the body and mind. Even now I love thrift shopping more than buying retail. And paying full price—PLEEZE!

—Anne Schroeder

You can follow Anne and read more of her interesting life stories, and find her books at http://anneschroederauthor.blogspot.com. You won’t be disappointed!

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16 responses to “Guest post from Anne Schroeder: A typical day in “Green” Acres

  1. anne, i may not have had the family setting, the phone, or even the heat, as my grand mother only lit the huge fireplace in the large common room…but i share the memory of rules and conditions..
    the story of peaches and chickens on same day reminds me of similar days of summer..
    and i still share your love of the frugal life..the satisfaction of small things well done…
    you know that a lot of blouses would have been scorched if i had been allowed a boyfriend and a phone…
    now i am going to visit your site..

  2. Love reading your experience. I was curious about the year or years you’re remembering. I’m one of eight children and had many poor times but yours sound like good times.

  3. It resembles my parents childhood and teenagehood more than mine. They lived just like Anne with the difference that my dad had to get up at 5 am to walk the cows to the field and look after them until his mom (or an older sibling) came to relieve him so he could go (means walk) to school. My dad had 12 siblings and he was the youngest one. His dad was killed when my dad was 3 years old. My mom’s and dad’s family didn’t have bathrooms. They were bathing in the kitchen in a big metal bowl that during the day would be used for handwashing clothes.
    I was able to “taste” their life as a kid every year (for summer break) we would go visit my dad’s family. my parents would leave us there for two months. I was able to experience how close to each other and to the nature people lived. Not the same as people in the city where I grew up, locked in a small apartment pretending that we are reach(er) than those still living out there in the villages. I cheerish those memories and I wish I had a time machine to be able to go back there and live those moments again.

  4. …. and it would be even better if instead of going back in time I could just re-create that place and life-style right now, right here (except maybe the outhouses) 😉

  5. Hi Nadine Claudia and MOM. To answer Claudia’s question– I’m actually writing about the ’60s. To us baby boomers that doesn’t seem so long ago. One thing I’ve taken from my farm experience is that work is life.

    I think we are heading back there in some ways. The pendulum can only swing so far before it has to go back. Jennifer’s blog is proof of that. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you share it. And Nadine thanks for jumping over to mine.

    • I agree that we can go only so far before we will have to go back… but sometimes it seems to me that at some point in our future there will be no coming back option becasue it will be too late. Sometimes when I watch movies like “WALL-E” or “I, ROBOT” (I’ve seen those more than once) I think, gosh… we are heading that way and it’s unbelievable that most of the people do not see it or at least don’t care. I mean I’m not saying that people should watch cartoons and get ideas from them about our future… but still it’s just an example. Thy don’t need to watch anything to just understand that if we all change a one little thing in our life like start buying less or buying more green and organic, or maybe a planting a herb it would make a real difference in a long run.
      But I don’t see people doing so and I don’t see that people want to do so. They are spoiled with all the plastic-fast-fantastic life and lifestyle. It’s sad how far some distanced themselves from nature and natural.

  6. I love it, Anne!

  7. I’m not a big fan of the outhouses either….when it’s cold outside, anyway!! 🙂
    Thanks for reading, everyone. I know it was a bit longer than my normal posts, and when Anne sent it, she told me she had so much fun writing it, she just got carried away. She told me to cut whatever I saw fit, but by the time I got to the end, I was like, “That’s it? It’s over?” I was right there in the story! It was so interesting, I couldn’t cut any of it!
    My mom was from a family of nine, seven kids, I saw a lot of Anne’s story in my mom’s stories, except they weren’t on a farm. But they did have the outhouses! I just love those stories.
    Mom Photographer wrote about her summers like that in one of her posts, and for just a few minutes, I’m away from all this technology, and comfy living. And just like Mom Photographer, what I wouldn’t do to recreate it right here and now.

  8. I remember one Christmas at my foster sister’s Mom’s house in Clear Lake, CA. It was the late fifties. There was snow on the mountain where she lived in a little cabin and we three kids all slept with her Mom for warmth… Only had one pair of warm slippers, so the first one up, put them on, lit the wood stove, dressed and crawled back into bed, so the next one could put on the slippers and dress, continued until “Mom” got up last, left us all under the covers, talking and giggling while she fixed our breakfast. Then we put on our shoes and socks and were up for the day!

  9. I’m going to have to watch WALL-E. I can’t remember that I’ve seen it. If I did, I’m sure I cried.
    Nadine–I think you’re plenty fun!

    • there are very few movies that i could watch again..wall-e certainly qualifies, i wish they offered it to schools–free–
      jennifer, thanks for reminding me that i am “plenty fun” i’ m just a word snob…don’ t like specific short words..because i had an overdose of them in my immediate acquaintance with english..

      ie: it’s so FUN!, I just LOVE that!, he’s got a BIG HEART! –pow, double whammy!– the 3 or 4 letter words don’t impress me, so i declare myself a big heartless, no fun lover…because i have witnessed an entire value system sink below the weight of the implied expectations of families who are totally mobilized by these three and four letter words.
      long on want and short on need…a whole segment of society drowned in feeble commercial rhetoric. grr!

      you didn’t know that i have a spare finger to capitalize so many little words in one single comment uh?

      • It’s true. And now in the land of texting those short words aren’t even spelled correctly!

      • ooh! i LUV’ U jenn! ain’t-it FUun? not gonna waste any precious mental energy on mere words, i still have to learn how to cut it short (as when i WAS a natural poet)..too much to read in this wide open global forum..it’s not green if it’s wasteful. edit-edit…got work to do here.
        signed: one slow blogger

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