The small farmhouse abutted a steep hill that was great for sliding in winter and inner tube riding in summer. The hill was topped by a pair of apple and plum trees, which produced amble fruit for canning.
The hill would have been ideal for sliding fun had it not been for the clothesline pole obstacles at its bottom. Mother worried that someone taking a dizzying ride inside a tractor tire inner tube or on a slow-moving scoop shovel would hit a pole. She watched and fretted from the kitchen window while hoping no one suffered bodily harm.
There were other dangers. The creek, which in normal times gently wound its way through the pasture, turned angry after heavy rains. The climb up the 60-foot silo could end with a tragic misstep, and the Holstein bull could turn angry.
Agriculture has always been dangerous for farmers and their families. In the decades before federal government regulations, uncovered gears, chains and takeoffs maimed and killed. Safety, as harvest approaches, is or ought to be a top priority. More than 400 people are killed in farm accidents annually.
The clothesline was not dangerous even when bed sheets and pants froze solid before they dried on the line. The clothesline — as it was to most families at the time — was an essential part of the farmstead. On wash days, which occurred more than once a week, its lines were heavily loaded.
Mother favored an old-fashioned approach, using a washboard to scrub soiled work clothes. The tub where the work was done in years past was where we bathed on those special occasions when it was deemed necessary Easter, Christmas, and weddings.
Because the original house was obsolete, the tub was moved near the wood stove, which heated the water. My sisters bathed first, followed by brothers based on age. My turn was last, at which time the water was black and cold. In and out speed was essential, but the process was slowed by Mother, who inspected and rubbed ears raw.
When my sister married and I was to be part of the wedding, Mother said it was time for a fancy barbershop haircut. Up to that time, she had cut my hair with a hand-powered clippers. The clippers occasionally yanked and scraped but were, for someone who feared slick strangers, much better than a barber shop.
The barbershop, after all, might be as awful as a dentist appointment. The dentist was a kind old fellow who gave out candy when the work was done, but he used Novocain sparingly. (The fear of dentistry continues, which no doubt stems from bad childhood experiences.)
In any case, Mother worked the old Maytag ringer-washer overtime while lugging heavy clothes baskets up the basement steps. Occasionally, her youngest son reluctantly helped after much pleading. The responsibility seemed beneath me at the time, which on reflection was a serious sin of omission.
Dad insisted that because I was the youngest and Mother needed help, it was my responsibility to provide it. I was much better at bringing clothes in from the line in part because it gave Mother time to make supper.
It also was fun beating braided rugs while the hung on the line. Mother sewed the rungs on the Singer machine, which required plenty of raw material and patience. Dust flew from the rugs as they were beaten, which provided the opportunity for a boy to imagine enemies were vanquished or a homerun hit.
In a bid to save money on haircuts, we purchased a fancy electric clipper that came with several heads. The $18 saved with each haircut would come in handy. When the time came, Kathy said she would not do it for reasons that she would not elaborate on.
“I just don’t want to do it,’’ she said.
The unused clipper is lost somewhere in the distant reaches of the closet.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.