These below-zero days have brought back memories from 50 years ago.
Living as comfortably as we do today, it almost seems it happened in a different place in another life.
My dad enjoyed raising livestock and we always had cattle, hogs and chickens which meant every day there were chores that needed to be done.
Winter chores always took longer than any other time of the year. The cattle needed bedding, the water tank had to be kept thawed, and the cold was ever present.
The tank heater was a wood burner that needed to be stoked and checked frequently to keep it burning.
It was the first job in the morning and the last job of the day. It was a relief when it was replaced by one that burned LP, even if the replacement was balky and temperamental.
Mornings meant waiting for the school bus at the end of the driveway and if it was running late, my sisters and I stood there and waited until it appeared.
The driveway was long so running to meet the bus was not a choice. We were not fast runners and the driveway was long.
As we waited for the bus on the coldest days, I could feel my fingers and toes get numb. Finally, the bus would show up and we were off to school.
Then, later in the morning after my fingers had gotten warm, there came that stinging sensation in my fingertips. Apparently, no harm was done because 50 years later, of the problems I have, my fingers are none of them.
After school, it was my job to pick eggs each day. The chicken house had been sealed tight for the winter with a space heater to keep the chickens warm and the water flowing.
When the door was opened to go inside, a cloud of moisture much like the breath of someone exhaling in cold weather would be sucked outside with the opening door.
Accompanying the cloud would a blast of ammonia so strong a person’s eyes would temporarily burn.
There must have been a lot of nitrogen in that chicken feed that those chickens converted to ammonia inside that unventilated chicken house.
Once inside, it was not that bad and I would settle down to picking eggs, filling four egg baskets each day and carrying them up the hill to the house.
On Saturdays I helped my dad bed the cattle. He threw down the square bales of straw that had been stacked for that purpose the previous summer in the pole barn where the cattle had shelter.
His part of the job was physical so he stayed warm as he threw the bales and scattered the straw.
My job was not as physical. My job was to hold the wires that had held the bales together and he had cut with his pliers.\
Each scattered bale meant two more wires I would drape over my hand so he could use both his hands for cutting and scattering those 75 or so bales.
My dad did not use twine to hold his bales together; he used baling wire. When my gloves couldn’t keep my fingers warm holding those cold wires on a cold day, I switched to mittens and then gloves inside mittens before eliminating my problem of numb fingers.
I don’t believe I found a way to keep my toes from getting numb, another problem with no lasting long term damage.
However, in retrospect, those cold days with numb fingers and toes and a daily blast of ammonia have given way to warm memories of being alongside my dad making his job a little easier.
But that doesn’t mean I want to go back to that time. The memories are enough.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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