One Man’s Memories

I spoke at some length today with a man I have known for a few years as a casual acquaintance. He was born in 1944. He grew up here in central New York State on a small homestead. There were six children in his family and he recalls that, from a young age, he always had plenty of chores to do around home.

He told me that his mother and father both worked in a rope factory in the small city of Auburn which was maybe ten miles from their home. He related to me that his family was largely self sufficient when he was growing up. The only thing he recalls his parents buying from a grocery store in those days was flour and sugar.

His family had a large garden and they put up lots of food. They had a cow and two goats for milk. They always had two beef cows in the pasture. And they raised pigs. They also raised all kinds of poultry: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, Guineas, and pigeons. They were grain-fed pigeons, so they were good eating.

He told me he remembers going to weekly small livestock auctions and old Billy goats would sell for two or three dollars. His father bought all the cheap Billy goats he could get. Back home the family butchered them and the meat went into the freezer.

The man’s father sold all the eggs and chickens he could raise to people at the factory where he worked. The Italians, Poles, and Ukrainians who lived in the ethnic neighborhoods of the city always wanted the chickens live.

The man remembers some Italian men coming to his family’s place out in the country and catching sparrows inside the barn at night. They made sparrow pie out of them.

As a boy, my friend raised fancy pigeons and Banty hens. To this day, he still keeps a small flock of these birds in a coop in his back yard.

My friend told me things back then were a lot different back than they are today.”It was,” he said, with a wistful gaze, "a good life.”



James said...

Lark, or Sparrow Pye.

You must have five dozen at least; lay betwixt every one a Bit of Bacon as you do when you roast them, and a Leaf of Sage and a little Force-meat at the Bottom of your Crust; put on some Butter a top and lid it; when bak’d for one Hour, which will be sufficient, make a little thicken’d Gravy, put in the Juice of a Lemon; season with Pepper and Salt, so serve it hot and quick. (Charles Carter’s “City and Country Cook … “ 1736)

Matt Davis said...

Hey Brother Herrick,

This is almost the same story that was related to me by my Dad about 3weeks ago. He relayed his story while we were outside chopping firewood. Even though I live in a modern yuppie house, we still refuse to use electric heat. We much prefer the wood burning fireplace even though it is not very efficiant.

He grew up poor as dirt on McCall's Creek in Mississippi, yet richer than most today in their fancy houses. He had 6 brothers and 1 sister. They got one pair of shoes each at the beginning of the school year (when the crops produced well the year before) and would have to wear them 'til the next spring when they then went barefoot the whole summer. When he turned 4 or 5, I don't remember which, It was his job to feed and water the animals, to take care of the harnessing equipment for the mules and to help his daddy and older brothers any way he could from sun-up til school. Then in the afternoon the routine was repeated. They lived in a log cabin with large gaps between the logs. In the winter they would fill the gaps with red clay and in the summer time they would bust out the clay for airflow.

Once, while visiting a plantation in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I looked at one of the original slave cabins and said "Hey Dad, looks like the house you grew up in." He chuckled and replied "Naw, we'da give our eye teeth for a house that nice." He wasn't kidding.

While standing near the woefully small firepile, I told my Dad we would love to go back to life as he led it in the '30s. He looked at me with sad eyes and said, "Those were the good times. Life was simpler then. I wish I could go back, too."

I don't believe the best times have to be behind us. You and your family are tesimony that they are not. Thank you, Herrick and may you and your family be blessed this wonderful Thanksgiving season. We have much to thank our Father for.