Shared Stories: Of Course I Have Running Water

Barbara Goodhue grew up on a farm in the 1930’s and 40’s. Her family life could have been a model for “Little House on the Prairie.” After helping with chores, she and her siblings rode to school on a horse. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Barbara Goodhue

I grew up on a small farm in eastern Colorado about eight miles north of Stratton. I am the second of seven children, and our farm had no electricity or indoor plumbing. My brother Dale was the oldest child. Altogether we were four boys and three girls.

My father farmed corn, maze, and other hay for feeding the farm animals during the winter. Several times a year my aunt and uncle and nine cousins came over when we butchered a pig or a cow. The chance to visit with our cousins was a lot of fun for us. We helped with grinding the meat for sausage, and my mother preserved the sausage in large jars.

My mother was a farm wife who not only cared for us children, but also worked in the garden and fields, helped to milk the cows, and did many other regular farm jobs. Each spring she planted a huge garden with rows of green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radishes, parsnips, etc. Some of the produce from this garden was canned in fruit jars and stored in the basement.
Our water came from a well powered by a windmill on a small hill. The water had to be carried to the house by me and my siblings whenever it was needed. We heated the water on a coal stove for doing laundry, washing dishes, taking baths, etc. 

For water to drink and wash our hands, we had water buckets on a washstand. We used a tin cup or a dipper that everyone drank from. Our bathtub was a large, round galvanized tub. Years later, when my parents had moved to a much larger city and had indoor plumbing and other amenities, my mother would jokingly say about the farm, “Of course I had running water – I had seven kids with buckets.”

We did laundry on a washboard. Sometime later we got a washing machine with a hand wringer. After we put the clothes through the wringer the first time, the clothes had to be rinsed in clean water to get the soap out. Then we put the clothes through the wringer again before hanging them on the line to dry.

A coal stove was used for all cooking and heating. My mother made homemade bread, biscuits, apple and cherry pies, cakes and cookies. Sunday dinner was always a treat with fried chicken and dumplings, or sometimes roast beef. When it was dark, we used kerosene lamps for light.  I washed the globes to make them shine, and I filled them with kerosene. About 1953 my parents got electricity through the REA (Rural Electric Association). I had already graduated and left home by then.

My siblings and I helped with the chores as we grew and were able. We milked the cows and separated the milk from the cream before going to school in the morning, and this had to be done again in the evening. The cream was put in five or ten gallon cream cans that were kept in cold water in a shed next to the windmill. When the cans were full, they would be taken to town to be shipped to a creamery. 

We also fed the chickens, gathered the eggs daily, and cleaned the chicken houses once or twice a week. We helped my mother hoe the garden to keep the weeds out and carried water for it.

All of us who were old enough worked in the field shocking feed and gathering ears of corn which were also prepared for eating and canning. Most of the field work and harvesting was done during the summer, so we didn’t have to miss school.  

There were several different primary schools in the area. I remember one called Greenwood, which was about three miles away, and another called Idylwild, which was about one mile away. The schools were one room, and all eight grades were taught and supervised by one teacher. There could be twelve to fifteen students or more.

We either walked or rode a horse to school, even through the snow and cold weather. Sometimes two or three of us rode on one horse. There was a barn or shed to tie the horses in while we were at school. At recess we would play tag, hide and seek, ante over the roof, and London Bridge is falling down. On stormy days we played indoor games such as dominoes, checkers, Chinese checkers, hangman, etc. We also played these games with our cousins at home.  

We didn’t get an allowance, but when brown beans were harvested, Mom would give us a penny a cup for all that we picked up off the ground. We would be real excited about going to town when we had a nickel or dime to buy candy or an ice cream cone for five cents. 

When we had chicken pox, we were quarantined for a long time. Our family doctor, who was in another town about 6-8 miles away, would make house calls.

My mother made our clothes – including dresses and bloomer underwear out of printed flour sacks for us girls. We did have some nicer dresses for church and Sundays. Sometimes we would wear the ones we wore to school. When she had time, my mother made dresses and clothes for our dolls. 

We made our own doll furniture with empty spools that used to have thread on them, and we made small cardboard squares for a table top. We would also put nails in the dirt with a string around it to make fences for our toy animals. On stormy days we played indoor games and read books.

Winters could be very cold, with bad snow storms or blizzards. Sometimes we were unable to get to town or to school. My brother sometimes stayed with a couple who had a dairy farm. He helped them with farm work in exchange for room and board so he could attend school in the winter.

After I was old enough, I did baby-sitting for different families in town for 25 cents an hour. I would also stay with one couple during the winter when the weather and roads were too bad for my brother and me to drive to high school. I also helped this couple, who were wheat farmers, during harvest time by taking care of their two girls, helping with house work, and cleaning up after preparing meals for the harvesters. One couple asked me to go on vacation with them up through the mountains and help take care of their two children. Our family had never been able to go on trips like that, so this was a treat.

I graduated from high school in 1949 and I had planned to go to Pueblo, Colorado, about 175 miles away to a business college. But I taught school for a short while first to earn some money.

I guess there was a shortage of teachers, so at that time the district was busing the kids to school in Stratton. Two families didn’t want their children to go on a bus, so the district told me that if I would go to the teachers college in Greeley for six weeks during the summer and get an emergency Teacher’s Certificate, they would hire me to teach the three children – one each in first, third, and fourth grades. I did that for one year so I would have money to pay for my college.

I was successful, and went to school in Pueblo where I later met my husband. These are all very good memories.