I feel that I’ve really returned to my natural roots this spring, at least in my mind. For many years, I went through all the recommended steps to prepare for planting. After studying the seed catalogs and evaluating our farm land as to the planting needs, I officially began the season with a late-fall or early-spring soil test to determine the amount of lime and fertilizer needed to grow worthwhile crops on those farm fields. In various levels of retirement, I haven’t done that for a number of years.

Years ago, I would walk the fields to be planted carrying a clean plastic bag or bucket along with a soil probe or shovel. I would pull samples in a pattern that represented a cross-section of the field. I would take the mixture to the house to dry thoroughly in front of our wood stove in the basement. When the samples were dried out, I would sift out any pebbles, and pour the remaining soil into a mailer for sending to the lab for analysis at Penn State.

Within a week or so, the results would come back in the mail, decreeing that we needed a little lime here and there, and certain combinations of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. That’s the way I always decided what materials to order. I would call Dick Ross in Sugar Hill, or go to the Agway Store in Brockway, or sometimes call to DuBois or Brookville to order the nutrients and seeds.

I would call Linc Wilson in Sugar Hill and order the lime which he would spread in his off-white truck wearing his off-white work clothes, both of which started out in some other color that turned lime-gray. Occasionally, I’d call for one of those spreader trucks from Agway in Brookville, the ones with the big, fat inflated tires that were a little better at getting through the wet spots. But it wasn’t always like that. When I was growing up, our lime came in bags just like the fertilizer. We had our own off-white lime spreader, and we had a grain drill and a corn planter to deposit the fertilizer and seeds. I don’t recall doing soil tests in those days.

Everybody knew just what it took to get corn to grow and what it took to produce a good crop of oats. The equipment was set once when it was new, and never needed adjustment. Every field got the same treatment of lime, and we just bought something like 10-20-20 fertilizer for everything. There was a lot of labor and time involved in the spring work, including the spreading of a winter’s accumulation of manure from the pile by the barn. Plowing and harrowing were done as weather permitted, sometimes as early as March or as late as June.

The seeds were planted according to the recommendations in the Farmers’ Almanac wherever possible. Around our house, no seeds or small plants were ever put out in the garden until the “right sign” came along. The garden was an important part of farm life that was usually organized by my mother. The garden was her personal turf – at least at planting time. She was willing to train anyone else on the skills of operating a hoe later in the summer.

House cleaning was another operation that came under my mother’s direction. In those days, most people had “dirty” houses by the time winter was over. Most of us used coal for heat and coal furnaces and heaters tended to puff smoky dust throughout the house. At the first sign of warm days, my mother declared that it was time to begin spring cleaning.

The first step was to take down the curtains and hand-wash them. Most of our windows were covered with some sort of lace curtains and they had to be handled carefully. That was good for my dad and me, since “carefully” wasn’t high in our vocabulary. After hand-washing, they were starched so they would hang better when placed back on the curtain rods. Then they were placed on “curtain stretchers” to dry. These adjustable frames were made of wood and had a line of dull pins sticking out on all sides to receive the curtains. I think they were designed to prevent shrinking as the curtains dried.

After we got past the curtain project, next came the rugs. They were not the wall-to-wall kind in today’s home, but area rugs. Each rug was carried or dragged outside and draped over the clothes line. It was often my job to “beat” the rugs. I was handed a metal frame, molded into something like a tennis racket with wide mesh, to “paddle” the rugs – a technique developed that came in handy in later years in the classroom. The process of paddling a rug was intended to knock the dust out of it. We didn’t have vacuum cleaners in those days – not until the Electrolux man came down the road years later.

Our house, like many of the houses of its day, had wallpaper on the walls. Coal dust, along with handprints and other things, collected on the wallpaper. My mother bought this strange wallpaper-cleaning material that resembled modeling clay. She showed me how to work it into a doughy wad and then slide it down over the wallpaper. It worked something like an eraser and actually lifted the dirt off the wallpaper. When it got dirty, I learned to fold it over and squeeze it a few times like people do with one of those hand strengtheners, then resume with a cleaner clump of that awful stuff. I hated that job! I have discovered that the cleaner later evolved into what is now known as Play-Doh.

One job that I always enjoyed was turning new calves out to pasture. Those youngsters had been born over the winter and had never really seen the great outdoors. They would be frightened by grass rippling in the wind, leaves quivered on the trees, and the fly-by antics of birds. It was important to control their antics so they didn’t run through the fences. I would train them with a rope by snaking out just enough for them to reach the fence but short enough to pull them back when they touched the wire and felt the electricity. Eventually, they could run free in the pasture. The older cows would run in the spring, too, with their tails sticking straight out behind them and hooves flying.

My mother always had chickens, too. She enjoyed having them around, so she usually bought little chicks in the springtime. They would arrive in a box, and there was always a lot of chick chirping to let the whole world know they were around. Some of them were shipped to the local feed store, Art Miller’s on 5th Avenue in those days, and other times they came right to the post office for people to pick up, or to have delivered by my dad, the parcel postman.

At our house, the box was set in the corner of the kitchen where it could be closely watched until the little “peeps” gained strength after their travels across country from some hatchery. A few would not survive, but most tottered around the box finding their own little corner and then slowly growing from a little puff of fuzz into a fine, feathered friend. Occasionally a chicken-fight would break out and she would have to smear some foul-tasting salve on the victim to prevent another occurrence. By later in the summer, they would all be out in the chicken yard. Soon fresh eggs would arrive in the Frigidaire.

Now, the walls in our house are painted, and repainted as often as needed. The carpets are swept and shampooed on a regular basis using electric machines. The curtains can be tossed into the automatic washer when they look dirty, and then passed along to the dryer. They’ll hang okay without any starch and stretcher. Out in the field, many big-time farmers consider their seat on the tractor as their office that’s equipped with computer controls to regulate seed and fertilizer spreading according to figures relayed to the tractor’s controls from a satellite floating in the sky overhead.

Life has really changed. All is not totally lost in this faster-paced world after all.

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