from the upcoming and untitled book about Northwest and North Central Kansas
I Might Have Been a Girl, But I Became the "Boy" on the Farm
By Verna Ferguson of Concordia, Kansas
First, my birth father left my mother when I was 2 years old and my baby sister was 3 months old. At the time, we lived in Vici, Oklahoma. My mother took in washings (done by hand on a scrub board) to take care of us until I was four. She answered an ad for a “housekeeping & companion” from a man in Red Cloud, Nebraska. (This is what my mother and uncles told me later.)
Two years after they married, we had a terrible drought. My mother told me they raised only one bushel of corn. Daddy’s farm, most of his machinery, his car, etc. was repossessed. I remember we moved to a little farm near Webber, Kansas. Since we didn’t have a car, we rode in a wooden spring wagon pulled by two horses and walked for two or three days to this farm. My mother had just given birth to a little girl, so she rode most of the way.
When we arrived at the farm, it was a rickety old wooden frame house. In the wintertime, I can remember the snow blowing in through the sides of the window. We had an iron stove with a reservoir on one side and we burned cow chips and wood in the other side. My mother cooked on the stove and we had irons that we heated on the stove. The irons are ones you see in museums now. I learned to iron when I was 8 years old. Believe it or not, I like to iron with these new, modern steam irons.
We didn’t have electricity until I was 14 years old. We never had running water until I moved to town and married soon after.
My mother had a square-tubbed Maytag washing machine that had some kind of motor underneath it. I remember her putting a big “boiler” on top of the stove with water in it and we would dump that water into the washing machine. The cleanest clothes went in first, clear up to the dirty overalls, last.
We always had “outhouses” and used catalogs for “wiping.” We liked the index pages best because they were not as stiff.
I remember several one-room schoolhouses. We moved from Webber, Kansas to a farm northwest of Superior, Nebraska, and from there to Nelson, Nebraska. Finally, my parents were able to buy a farm near Lovewell, Kansas where we girls (there were 4 of us) went to school.
Every Saturday night was bath night. We had a galvanized tub that was put in front of the “Warm Morning” stove (that was fueled with coal or wood). By this time, my mother had a “Perfection” cook stove. It was light green and cream colored.
On Saturdays, we drove 18 miles to town, and us girls were given fourteen cents to go to a movie. They were westerns starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans and Hopalong Cassidy, etc. On Saturday night, before bath time we each got one bologna sandwich.
My mother was a wonderful seamstress. She made all our school clothes. When she and Daddy went to town to “trade,” Mother would pick out the feed sack and flour sack material to make our dresses. No shorts were allowed. We would look through the Sears-Roebuck catalog and find a dress we liked and she would make our dresses.
We were not allowed to go to the dances, but when I was about 15 years old, a girl from my class invited me to go to a dance at a neighbor’s house. I told my mother a little white lie and went with my girlfriend. When we got to the house, all the chairs and furniture were put on the side of the room. There was an old piano and some men playing guitars and banjos. It was so much fun. They served coffee, lemonade, and cookies. I had never had so much fun in my life. I still like to dance.
I remember one really severe blizzard when I was in the 6th grade. My little sister was in the 5th grade and of course, we walked to school. The wind and snow was really getting worse, so the teacher let school out early. We didn’t walk around the road, but started across the field and a pasture. There was a huge haystack in the pasture where the cattle had eaten all around it, providing some shelter. My sister and I huddled together inside that haystack until that storm settled down. It was dark when we got home. I don’t remember my folks being terribly worried about us. By the way, we didn’t have a phone then.
We girls all had chores to do. Since I was the oldest, I became the “boy” of the farm. I milked cows, fed the chickens, helped put up hay (my dad had the horses pull a big hay wagon with slings on it, and I would spread the hay around evenly over the sling and then, when we got to the barn, the slings were pulled together with a big pulley and raised to the hayloft. One time when I was spreading the hay around, Daddy threw a big pitchfork of hay up onto the wagon with a rattlesnake in it. However, the rattlesnake slithered off the wagon and I wasn’t far behind. Thankfully, it slithered away unharmed (me too).
One of the farm chores we had to do was separating the milk. We had an old fashioned cream separator that we put the milk in, turned the handle, and got the milk and cream separated. Of course, we made our own butter and my mother made fancy decorations on the butter.
I was about 13 when a neighbor boy came over to the house a lot. One day when I was down by the barn, he gave me a quick kiss and practically ran away. My sister teased him unmercifully.
When my mother got her new kitchen stove, they took the old iron stove out and put it out by the chicken house. She told us we could play out there but, “NEVER LIGHT A FIRE IN IT!” Well, one day she was washing and hung the clothes on the line. My sister and I tried to “chink” all the little open places tight, filled it with paper and debris. After a while, the fire went POOF and the soot and smoke got all over my mother’s clean clothes. We got a good “switching” and put to bed for the rest of the day. I’ll always remember that old cotton mattress with the little buttons on it. The sheets were being re-washed.
Before we got the icebox, we would drop food that needed to be cool down in a cistern that was on our porch.
My step-dad or (Daddy) never laughed. He always farmed with horses until the day they moved off the farm. He worked hard, but if we girls wanted to listen to music, or play, or read, we were “wasting time.” I remember he didn’t think I needed to go to high school, but my mother stuck up for me and the other girls. We all graduated, but he didn’t come to any of our graduations. He might have gone to my younger sister’s graduation, but I don’t remember that.
We only went to town (18 miles away) on Saturday. We rode the school bus 2 ½ miles to school. I remember one morning I was on the bus and looked down at my feet and I was wearing my “chore” shoes that had dabs of manure on them. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to cry.
We had a party line phone when I was about 13 or 14, with several people on it. It was a way of news getting around. We always knew everybody’s ring. Ours was two longs and a short.
One year I was helping Daddy shuck corn. I had a funny glove with a metal thing on it to pull the corn husk away from the ear. Two horses pulled the wagon with “backboard” on it to catch the ears as we tossed them up there. I was 11 years old and had to work like a man.