How the egg money kept the farm family running smoothly
Mychal Wilmes' mother sold eggs to meet family needs that couldn't be taken care of from the garden, like coffee, sugar, and flour, school shoes and special treats.
Mother interrupted a conversation that I was having with myself when she opened the barn door to fetch milk for home use. October nights had turned cold, and it was time to collect the young hens that had spent the summer roaming around the farmstead.
The chickens roosted on trees, in the machine shed and in the barn. The milk inspector would have been appalled about birds in the barn, and rumors were he would soon be visiting.
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The coop was ready for the new flock. The old hens had been harvested, their meat essential for good noodle soup and hot dishes for funeral lunches and potlucks.
Waterers and feeders were disinfected, and new sawdust laid down. The last and by far the most dreaded task involved catching the roaming birds. The hens would soon lay enough eggs to sell. A nearby company that specialized in eggs and chicken processing provided a regular market. A truck driver picked up eggs every week from small flock owners.
The revenue generated by the flock was essential to meet household expenses. The large garden provided all the essentials save for coffee, sugar, and flour. She often spoke about the awful Great Depression times when barley substituted for coffee beans and molasses replaced processed sugar.
Ear corn was shelled via a hand-cranked machine in the granary, which at one time had been used as a home. The granary was made strong with native lumber and its roof well maintained. The hens also feasted on potato and apple peelings, leftover mush, and other discarded table items.
Two wire baskets carried eggs to the basement where they were candled in light provided by a naked bulb. Brown eggs were kept for home use because the company didn’t want them.
The truck driver — a huge man who weighed more than 350 pounds — greeted us with a smile and jokes. If we agreed to help lug cases up the stairs and to the truck, he would pull a couple candy bars from a cardboard box and offer them to us as a reward.
He admired Mother because she worked so hard to provide for us.
“Your Mother," the truck driver often said, “is someone special."
She was that indeed.
Egg money was kept in a glass bowl. Withdrawals were made to purchase flour, sugar and coffee, and for new shoes at the start of each new school year. Getting used to wearing shoes again after a long barefoot summer was uncomfortable.
School-worthy pants and shirts were made on a Singer sewing machine. Two pairs of pants and shirts were expected to last through the year, along with undergarment made from repurposed cloth sacks. Her sister sometimes provided used clothing purchased at garage sales.
The clothes and shoes were given with a warning — under no circumstance should they be worn in the barn least they be worn out too soon. It was difficult to follow the rule, which disappointed her to no end.
Mother made school lunch, which most often involved jelly or summer sausage sandwiches made with homemade bread, a cookie, and an apple from the farmstead’s half-dozen trees. When the school lunch menu included baked chicken or something extra special, she offered 25 cents from the bowl for a special treat.
Mother, who stressed the importance of honesty, was dismayed when her youngest son helped himself to a couple quarters. The small grocery store next to the school sold chocolate doughnuts, which was a special circumstance that seemed to justify dishonesty.
Mother knew when the sugar bowl was raided despite my best efforts to hide the thievery. She was dismayed because had I asked, she more than likely would have given me extra money.
The chicken coop never lost its importance, which may be the reason why our household continues to purchase eggs direct from flock owners.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.