(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!
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!