It was all fun and games until chore time returned

Mychal Wilmes recalls the games and chores growing up on a small Minnesota farm.

A Slinky with a vintage Slinky box
A Slinky from Santa was one amusement Mychal Wilmes recalls from his childhood. But many other amusements were homemade and imagination-driven.
Courtesy / Pixabay
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Fox and Goose was a game played beneath the yard light in winter when children were urged to go outside to burn off excess energy.

Oats — clandestinely taken with a 10-gallon bucket from the granary — was spread on the snow in circular fashion. Dead ends inside the circle made it easy for the fox to catch younger participants while older siblings were far less easy prey.

Mother heard the din while watching from the kitchen window. Webs of frost partially blocked her view. Dad, other than complaining about wasted oats, paid no attention.

Fox and Goose was only part of our made-up games. A large cardboard box could be transformed into a barn with a knife and scissors fetched from a kitchen drawer. Plastic miniature animals — given two apiece for weekly good behavior — populated the barn.

A slinky, which had been a gift from Santa, was a wonderful toy as it moved down the steps.


Dad played checkers when the weather allowed little else. Because checker pieces couldn’t be found, a broom stick was sliced into pieces and colored black or white with crayons. Dad was a fierce competitor and expected others to be the same.

He was a good card player with skills honed uptown and in tournaments held in the church hall. A tongue lashing followed a misplayed card, although the reward for winning in-house were pennies or matchsticks. Mother only played highest card, a simple game that required little attention span.

Play ended with chore time.

A new and small silo was located a few yards away from the barn. Dad needed help carrying the bushel basket stuffed full of silage into the barn, which lacked drinking cups.

The outdoor stock tank was kept from freezing over by a small stove heated with corn cobs and kindling. Cows shivered in the cold after drinking their fill. Dad was a good dairyman, although he didn’t particularly like milking cows. Pre-teen sons were responsible for that.

When electricity arrived, milking by hand ended except for a single cow, which Dad said didn’t tolerate a milking machine. Mother left the house morning and night to milk the cow and returned with milk for the family.

A cattle jockey made the rounds to purchase animals. Money was scarce, so good cows and heifers were sometimes sold to the jockey, which angered sons who thought selling good animals was a poor way to build a good herd.

A shed, with a wood frame and covered with straw forked on it from the grain field, housed pigs and young stock. When the longed-for spring came, sows were moved to A-frames in a pasture just north of the barn.


Feeder pigs were fed skim milk and slop in a long trough. The pigs were so addicted to milk that they squealed loudly when they saw the person carrying a full bucket to them.

The milk separator was housed in a small building that was kept clean. The ceiling was soft and low. It was unscarred until an older brother picked me up and slammed me against it. Dad didn’t notice the hole until much later and said little.

It wasn’t the first time my head was used as a battering ram. The collision between head and wall left a hole in the kitchen wall that could not be covered by a picture. We — though I was blameless — were in big trouble until Mother purchased Play-Do, which repaired the hole.

An uncle — with a mood brightened by drink — was fun when he came to purchase eggs.

“Do you want to see me drink an egg?" he asked.

A jack knife made a small hole in the egg and its contents sucked out.

After the show, he invariably pulled two pennies from his pocket and offered them to me.

The house was demolished shortly after we moved out. However, the memories of a hardscrabble youth remain.


Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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